Summary: Year C. Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. January 28, 2001 Psalm 71

Year C. Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany.

January 28, 2001

Lord of the Lake Lutheran Church

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By The Rev. Jerry Morrissey, Esq., Pastor


Heavenly Father thank you for Jesus unconditional love. Amen.

Psalm 71

Title: “Growing old.”

Modern scholarship classifies the psalms according to type – Songs of Praise, Thanksgiving, Laments, Confidence and other types. Some of these types overlap in individual psalms. The original authors were not bound by these modern classifications. Such is the case with Psalm 71. The overall spirit is so tranquil, even when speaking of enemies, and so confident that the lament cannot be separated from the confidence, praise and thanksgiving that permeate every line of this prayer poem.

The author is old, maybe no more than fifty, but considered old in those days when people died “young”. He laments two “enemies”: physical death-threatening sickness and people who are taking advantage of his weakened condition to accuse him falsely of sin, perhaps a life of sin.

The author knew how to pray, learned from a lifetime of experience of singing the psalms in liturgy and using them for personal prayer. He either quotes other Psalms or uses their phrases, exhibiting a personal appropriation of their sentiments with ease and grace. Even though virtually every verse can find its antecedent in another psalm, it is clear that the author has made these thoughts his own. His confidence in God in the midst of suffering outshines his darkened state.

The structure is easy to discern, yet lament and confidence cannot be separated.

In verses 1-8 contain both petitions and expressions of trust, with verse 8 promising praise. Verses 9-16 describe his distress, petition for deliverance and end in verse 16 with another promise of praise. Verses 17-24 fluctuate between petition and praise.

In verses 1-3: These verses are also found in Psalm 31:2-4. These or similar sentiments would be expressed upon entering the Temple or any place of sanctuary. People felt safe in God’s holy place. One could take or find asylum there. The psalmist may be speaking of a physical entry to a place, but just as likely and appropriately this could express a psychological state of feeling protected, as when one enters formal prayer, no matter what the physical locality. Despite the threats the one at prayer concentrates on God as source of strength and protection, symbolized by “rock,” “stronghold,” “fortress.”

In verse 2 in your justice rescue me: The psalmist is claiming innocence and asking God to “set things right.”

In verse 5 my hope…from my youth: Throughout his life he has depended on God, who never let him down. He reminds himself of this before God to receive the confidence he needs from the fidelity and consistent pattern of God’s behavior, which is true of God and, though to a lesser extent, true of him.

In verse 7 a portent to many: “portent” translates mopheth. Though it can mean a “sign” of God’s providential care, it can also mean a “dreadful sign,” of God’s punishment. The latter seems to be the meaning here. His enemies are capitalizing on his physical sickness to accuse him of sin. They believed that suffering was caused by sin, the personal sin of the sufferer. Suffering exposed secret sin, especially. His enemies were saying, “He is sick because he did thus and so.” What they are accusing him of is not specified, however. To those who choose to believe them, he has become a “portent,” a sinner ”signed” as such by sickness.

You are my strong refuge: The psalmist does not go so far as to explicitly claim innocence from sin, but, in effect, says, “God knows better. He will protect me from this onslaught.” Of course, implied in this is the hope that God will cure him of his sickness. This would prove them wrong.

In verse 8 my mouth shall be filled with your praise: This is more a promise to praise, upon delivery, rather than praise itself. The thought is that a cure will confound the nay Sayers and be a “sign” of God’s care for the psalmist.

In verse 9 do not cast me aside in old age: An old person would have outlived most friends and family members at least the contemporary ones. That is bad enough. But to be deprived of God’s companionship would be the worst fate of all.

In verse 10 they watch and plot against me: These “enemies” are not specified. They could run the gamut of the “gossipers” who insinuate through whisper and innuendo that he is a sinner of some sort because a sufferer to formal accusers, at law, accusing him of a public crime. In any event, they are capitalizing on his weakened state to kick him while he is down, claiming that God has abandoned him because of his sin.

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