A first-person shooter is a type of video game where you experience the action from the perspective of the protagonist, who is shooting to fight off those attacking them. It is a very popular genre of game, offering the thrill of being in a very dangerous situation, depending on your own skills to come out alive, but with no actual risk. It provides a sense of being there yourself.
Many Psalms are written from a first-person perspective. Much of the Bible is third-person narrative, telling the story of how everything was created by God, how Jesus went about teaching and finally ending up at the cross. Other parts are instructive, telling us what to believe and what we should do as children of God. We can nod in agreement and say we believe what it is saying. But when we read many of the Psalms, we are taking the words of the Psalmist and making them ours; this makes things more personal.
In the case of Psalm 71, we see no writer or anything else in the title. Many think this was written by King David in his later years, but we need not concern ourselves with that. What we do notice is that this was written by a person who had gone through many trials and difficulty, in fact, was still going through them, but had a strong faith in his God to save him. The troubles are not specific. So we can read this, putting ourselves into the Psalmist’s shoes, and appropriating for ourselves the faith and hope that he has.
Hope for when Others are Against You
I. Turn to the Lord
II. Tell of the Lord’s works
I. Turn to the Lord
A. Facing wicked people
In the beginning of this Psalm we hear the Psalmist asking God for deliverance, “from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel,” “from my enemies who speak against me; those who want to kill me,” from people who are pursuing him and want to seize him. We have to recognize that there are wicked people in this world, who oppose God and oppose us who follow him. The Psalmist was almost certainly a man of good character, and still he was pursued. We may not have anybody who wants to kill us, but there are people around us who are evil and cruel, who want to tear us down, take credit for our accomplishments, take advantage of our kindness, deceive us and take our money. They want to defame us, make us look shameful. And as we get older, we get more feeble, both mentally and physically, more easily taken advantage of. Without a God who loves us in this world, it would be a scary place.
B. Asking the Lord to deliver and saveLike the Psalmist, there are evil people who are against us. But like the Psalmist we can turn to the Lord, ask him to rescue us and deliver us, to be for us a dependable refuge. The Psalmist has learned this from his youth, yes, even from birth; he had faith in the Lord, he relied on his God. He knew him whom he had trusted.
Some of us have grown up being taught that same faith, learning to know that our God will save us from a young age. Others have learned that later in life. It is all based on how God has saved us, first and foremost, from our sins, from our guilt, from eternal punishment. We put a big cross in our church to remind us of how he sent his Son into this world to take our sin and its punishment, to die in our place on that cross, then to rise again to life for our assurance. He saved us from our greatest trouble; he can be depended on to save us from our lessor troubles. He saved us from the devil and his evil angels; he can be depended on to save us from wicked people around us.
What does that look like?When we look at the world around us, especially through modern media like television and the internet, seeing wars and bloodshed in many areas, we realize what a sheltered life we have, for the most part, here in the United States. Here is one of the ways our God has sheltered us, by placing in in a country, community, and perhaps even in a family relatively free of violence and fear of physical harm. Now that’s not completely true of everyone in this country; we each have to consider our own situation and thank God for protecting us alive to this day, for the opportunity to live relatively free of threats and bloodshed. We pray for reprieve from threats we face in our situation, but we will find other ways God has protected us. Even with threats around, he can protect us from many kinds of dangers we may not even know about. And we all pray that he keep us safe in this dangerous world.
Threats come in more subtle and less physical ways. Many people around us do not believe in Jesus, and, as Jesus says, those who are not for us are against us. We can be thankful for protection, for the most part, against physical harm from these people. But their anti-Biblical opinions and feelings, their belittling of Christian beliefs, their reliance on their own efforts rather than on God’s, can be wearing, gnawing at the edges of our faith. We turn to God in prayer and in his word to give us strength to withstand these subtle but dangerous attacks on our faith. In this sense these people are against us.
But there is another way this Psalm gives us hope when others are against you.
II. Tell of the Lord’s works
A. Tell of the Lord’s righteous actsIt has been said that the best defense is a good offense. In the second part of this Psalm, the writer uses this approach. In the face of people opposing him he says, “My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long.” He goes on to say this in different ways. It was an important part of his life.
He would tell how the Lord forgave him his sin, adopted him into his family, grows his faith through the word, and gives him an eternal home in heaven. These are righteous acts and done for all believers that all can tell about. He would also speak of how the Lord had protected him and prospered him, given him health and family, among many other blessings. Since we don’t know who the writer is, this list could vary, depending, for example, on how healthy he was and how big a family he had, just as it will vary for all of us. But there would be a list of things, righteous things, the Lord had done for him in his life.
This telling of these righteous things would have the effect of turning back those who oppose him, even calling them to repentance and faith in God. Telling of the things God has done for us is how faith is planted in the heart of a person. But this telling of things God has done would have beneficial effect for the speaker, strengthening his own faith as well.
B. Teach the next generation
But there is another purpose for telling these things. He notes, “since my youth, God, you have taught me.” He had learned of God’s righteous deeds while he as young. Earlier in this Psalm he had said, “From birth I have relied on you.” God had almost certainly not taught him directly; this teaching came through his parents and other faith-filled people around him. They spoke of God’s righteous deeds to their son.
And so he goes on, “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” He wanted to relay this message of God’s righteous and saving acts to the next generation, which would certainly include his own children and grandchildren, if he had any. In fact this could have been some of the only things he could do in the last years of his life, when he might otherwise feel feeble and useless.
C. Tell of the honor and life that awaitsThe Psalmist ends this Psalm on a high note of praise for his God, even though, he writes, “you have made me see troubles, many and bitter.” His confidence, his hope is this, “you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.” His hope was ultimately in the resurrection to an eternal life of joy and bliss. On the day that will happen, all those who opposed God and his people, who refused to listen to him, will be “put to shame and confusion.”
What does this look like?Remember this Psalm is written from a first-person perspective, so when we read it we put ourself in his position. We tell of his righteous acts, we tell what God has done for us to whoever will listen. Are you forgiven, are you blessed by God, do you have hope in God for all eternity? Then tell about it, make that telling a part of your life. Is there a generation around you that needs to hear of God’s righteous deeds? Tell them, pass it on. Do you have a hope of heaven? Let your hope be known to those around you. Take up the words of the Psalmist.
We can conclude with him, “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you—I whom you have delivered. My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long.” Amen.