Psalm 31’s writer called for fire with precision and passion as he penned this prayer. Enemies threatened the Psalmist; he identifies how they have attacked him but also that their practices and values pit them against God. As he calls for fire, he states how he wishes for God, who loves steadfastly, to rescue him. He also requests a specific type of suppressive fire by God.
This prayer is grounded in trust. The prayer begins, “In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to same; 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” (Psalm 31:1-2). He requests refuge and deliverance; he wants God to be a “rock of refuge” and a “strong fortress.” The next words of the prayer reveal its author’s trust in God. Despite his current plight, he considers his rescue certain. He prays, “You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God” (Psalm 31:3-5). One phrase is familiar to Christians: “Into your hand I commit my spirit.” Several of Jesus’ “words” from the cross echo phrases or prayers from the Psalms; in Luke 23:46, perhaps the message for early Christians and for us was that even in the humiliation and obvious defeat of crucifixion, Jesus affirmed that God was in control and would redeem him.
This call for fire identifies the enemy to be attacked. They are the wicked, who lie, speak against the righteous with contempt (verses 17-18), conspire against the Psalmist (the phrase “terror all around” in verse 13 resembles a derisive nickname given to the prophet Jeremiah by his enemies), and worship idols (verse 6).These “wicked” people deride the values that God defends; they attack the people with whom he has identified himself. As in many other biblical prayers, the one who offers this prayer pleads that God will “for your name’s sake lead me and guide me” (verse 3). An attack on God’s faithful people is an attack on God himself.
The Psalmist precisely prays for concrete results from his prayer: “Do not let me be put to shame, O LORD, for I call on you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go dumbfounded to Sheol. Let the lying lips be stilled who speak insolently against the righteous with pride and contempt” (verses 17,18). He calls for vindication of himself and for the destruction of those who oppose him (Sheol is the realm of the dead.).
The situation of this person of prayer is desperate. In verses 11 and 12 he describes how dark his situation is: “I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.” He already has described how grief and sorrow have negatively affected his health.
Yet, despite this situation of apparent hopelessness, he prays with confidence; he affirms his experience of God’s “steadfast love” even while he confesses how endangered he is. He prays, “I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have taken heed of my adversities; you have set my feet in a broad place” (verses 7-8). He requests, “Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love” (verse 16). He asserts: “O how abundant is your goodness that you have laid up for those who fear you, and accomplished for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of every one! In the shelter of your presence you hide them from human plots; you hold them safe under your shelter from contentious tongues” (verses 19-20).
Preparation for prayer requires awareness of God’s ability to save. This Old Testament prayer proclaims that we can trust God to rescue the righteous because he loves with an enduring love. The Psalmist concludes his prayer, “Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as a city under siege. I had said in my alarm, ‘I am driven far from your sight.’ But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help” (verses 21-22). Psalm 31 ends with a directive from the Psalmist to those who follow God: “Love the LORD, all you his saints. The LORD preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord” (verses 23, 24). The believer’s love for God reflects God’s perceived love for the believer. Psalm 31 is a prayer that God will listen, that God will save, and that God will continue to favor the one who prays. The prayer is based in a trust of God that in turn is grounded in certainty that our God loves forever.