Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm (title) is inscribed "To the chief Musician upon Neginah." On the meaning of the expression, "To the chief Musician," see the notes at the title to Psa 4:1-8, where also we have the following word in another form, - "on Neginoth" - the plural, instead of the singular. The word means a stringed instrument; and the idea is, that the psalm was committed to the leader of those who played on stringed instruments in the sanctuary.
The psalm is ascribed to David, but the occasion on which it was composed is not specified. From the psalm itself it is evident that it was composed by one who was in exile Psa 61:2, and by one who was a king Psa 61:6. The supposition which best agrees with all the circumstances alluded to in the psalm is, that it was composed by David when he was driven into exile on the rebellion of Absalom, and that it was composed when he was still beyond the Jordan Sa2 17:22, and when his life was yet in danger. Psa 42:1-11 and Psa 43:1-5 refer to the same period, and have the same general characteristics.
The psalm consists of the following parts:
I. A prayer for the divine interposition, Psa 61:1-2. The psalmist was far away from his home - in exile - and his heart was overwhelmed.
II. A reference to former mercies, and to the divine interposition in other days, as a ground of hope and of pleading now, Psa 61:3-5.
III. An expression of confident assurance that his prayer would be heard; that his life would be preserved; that his days would be lengthened out, and that he would be delivered from danger, Psa 61:6-7.
IV. The result of this deliverance; or, as an expression of gratitude for it, a purpose to devote himself to God, in a life spent in the daily performance of his vows, Psa 61:8.
Hear my cry, O God - See the notes at Psa 5:2. The word rendered cry in this place sometimes denotes a joyful shout - a shout of triumph; but the connection makes it certain that it here refers to the voice of prayer. It is implied that it was audible prayer, or that the psalmist gave utterance to his desires in words. It is language such as would be produced by deep distress; when a sad and burdened heart gives vent to its feelings in a loud cry for mercy.
Attend unto my prayer - Give ear; incline the ear to me, Psa 5:1; Psa 17:1, Psa 17:6; Psa 39:12; Psa 71:2.
From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee - This language is derived from the idea that the earth is one extended plain, and that it has limits or boundaries. Such language is common in the Scriptures, and indeed is in constant use now, even although we know that the earth is globular, and that there are no parts which can properly be called "the ends of the earth." The meaning is plain. The psalmist was far from the place where he was accustomed to live; or, in other words, he was in exile or in banishment. The language agrees well with the supposition that the psalm was composed when David was driven from his home and his throne by Absalom, and was in exile beyond the Jordan, Sa2 17:22. Compare Psa 42:1-11.
When my heart is overwhelmed - The word used here - עטף ‛âṭaph - means properly to cover, as with a garment, Psa 73:6; then, with grain - as a field, Ps. 65:14; then, with darkness or calamity, Ps. 102 title; Isa 57:16. The meaning here is, that darkness or calamity seemed to have covered or enveloped his soul. He saw no light, he had no comfort. Compare Psa 42:3, Psa 42:6-7.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I - To a rock; to some place of refuge; to some stronghold where I may be safe. The allusion is to God as such a rock or place of refuge. See the notes at Psa 18:2. The idea is, that he had no strength in himself; that if he depended on himself, he could not be safe. He was, as it were, in a low vale, exposed to every enemy. He wished to be put in a place of safety. To such a place of safety - to Himself - he prayed that God would lead him. We need one much higher than we are to save us. A Saviour - a Redeemer - on the same level with ourselves could not help us. We must have one that is supreme over all things; one that is divine.
For thou hast been a shelter for me - A place of refuge; a place where I have found safety. He refers here to what had occurred in former times. God had protected him when in danger, and he pleads that fact as a reason why God should now interpose and deliver him. That reason seems to be founded on two considerations:
(a) God had thus shown that he had power to deliver him; and
(b) it might be expected that God who is unchangeable, and who had interposed, would manifest the same traits of character still, and would not leave him now.
Both of these are proper grounds for prayer.
And strong tower from the enemy - See the notes at Psa 18:2.
I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever - This expresses the confident assurance that he would be restored to his home, and to the privileges of public worship. The word forever here means perpetually; that is, his permanent home would be there, or he would dwell with God who dwelt in the tabernacle. The word "tabernacle" refers to the sacred tent which was erected for the worship of God, within which were the ark, the tables of the law, the table of showbread, etc. In the innermost part of that tent - the holy of holies - the symbol of the divine presence rested on the mercy-seat or cover of the ark of the covenant. David regarded it as a great privilege to abide near that sacred tent; near to the place of; public worship; near to the place where God was supposed to dwell. See Psa 23:6, note; Psa 26:8, note; Psa 27:4, note. It is possible that his mind looked beyond the tabernacle on earth to an eternal residence in the very presence of God; to his being admitted into his own sacred abode in heaven.
I will trust in the covert of thy wings - Margin, Make my refuge. See the notes at Psa 17:8. Compare Psa 36:7; Psa 57:1. The idea is, that he would seek and find protection in God - as young birds do under the outstretched wings of the parent bird.
For thou, O God, hast heard my vows - That is, my prayers accompanied with solemn pledges or promises that I will devote myself to thy service. In some way David had the assurance that those vows and prayers had been heard; that God would answer his supplications - that he would restore him to his home, and to the privilege of uniting with others in the sacred services of the sanctuary. In what way he had this assurance we are not informed, but the statement here accords with what we often find in the Psalms. His troubled mind became calm, for he looked upon the blessing as already granted. He entertained no doubt that what he had asked would be bestowed. The mind of a true believer often feels this assurance now. Somehow he feels an undoubting persuasion that the prayer which he has offered has been heard; that God will be merciful; that the blessing which has been sought will assuredly be conferred. That there may be danger of illusion here, no one can doubt - for we are not, as David was, inspired; but no one can prove that God may not impart such a gracious assurance to the soul; no one can show that it is wrong for a believer to allow peace to flow into his soul, in the confident hope that the blessing which he had sought will be his.
Thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name - The heirship which pertains to such; the privileges of those who are the true children of God. One of these privileges is that of prayer; another is the peace which results from adoption into the family of God; of feeling that we are his heirs. Compare the notes at Rom 8:16-17.
Thou wilt prolong the king's life - literally, "Days upon the days of the king thou wilt add;" that is, Thou wilt add days to those which thou hast already permitted him to live. The language does not necessarily mean that he would have a long life, but that he would still be permitted to live. He had apprehended death. He knew that his life was sought by those who were engaged with Absalom in the rebellion. At first it was uncertain what the issue would be. He had fled for his life. But now, in answer to prayer, he felt assured that his life would be preserved; that he would be permitted to return to his home and his throne; and that as king - as the sovereign of his people - he would be permitted to honor God.
And his years as many generations - Margin, as in Hebrew, generation and generation. This probably means that he would be permitted to live longer than the ordinary time of a generation; that he would live as if one generation - or as if one ordinary lifetime - were added to another, so that he would live through successive generations of men. The average life of a generation is about thirty years. David is supposed to have lived from 1085 before the Christian era to 1016 b.c., or 69 years, which would reach a third generation. This is a more natural interpretation of the passage than to suppose that he refers to an "ideal" king, or that his dynasty would continue for many generations.
He shall abide before God for ever - That is, perpetually; without danger of change, or of being driven into exile. This may allude, however, to the hope which David had that he would always live with God in a higher world - a world where there would be no danger of change or banishment. His restoration to his home, to his throne, and to the privileges of the sanctuary, he may have regarded as an emblem of his ultimate reception into a peaceful heaven, and his mind may have glanced rapidly from the one to the other. On earth, after his restoration, he would have no fear that he would be banished again; in heaven, of which such a restoration might be regarded as an emblem, there could be no change, no exile.
O prepare mercy and truth - literally, divide, or divide out; then, allot or appoint; and then, make ready or prepare. The prayer is, that God would measure out to him, or impart to him, such favor that this desire of his heart would be realized. On the phrase mercy and truth, see Psa 25:10, note; Psa 57:3, note; Psa 57:10, note.
Which may preserve him - They will preserve him. That is, the manifestation of such mercy and truth would make his permanent occupancy of his throne on earth, and his ultimate reception into heaven, secure.
So will I sing praise unto thy name for ever - As the result of this gracious interposition. Compare the notes at Isa 38:20. The meaning is, that he would do this constantly. It would be the regular business of his life.
That I may daily perform my vows - The solemn promises which I have made in my exile; the purposes which I have expressed to devote myself to thee. Or, the language may have been used in a more general sense, denoting that, as a religious man, the vows of God were constantly on him, or that he had pledged himself to serve God faithfully and always, and that he could better perform this duty at the tabernacle - in the place consecrated to public worship - than he could in exile. He desired, therefore, to be restored to the sanctuary, that he might keep up the performance of the daily duties of religion without interruption or hindrance. The whole psalm indicates a fervent desire to be engaged in the worship and service of God; a desire to be with Him and to enjoy His favor on earth; a confident hope that he would be permitted to enjoy His presence forever.