A Confident Prayer for Refuge – Translating Psalm 31
This psalm flows out of the lived internal experience of the psalmist. We get to look out through their eyes, and feel through their body the swings from hope, to despair, through to praise. Throughout, the Lord is presented as a strong fortress and refuge for those whose trust is in Him. The psalmist, who is attributed as David, are confident that the Lord is their refuge.
A Confident Prayer for Refuge
To the music director. A psalm of David.
1In You, LORD, I have taken refuge, † never let me be ashamed, * in Your righteousness, rescue me. 2Incline Your ear towards me, * and rescue me quickly. Be my rock of strength, * a strong fortress to save me. 3Since You are my rock and fortress, * lead and guide me for the sake of Your name. 4Spare me from the trap they laid for me in secret, * for You are my protector. 5Into Your hands I entrust my spirit, * for You have redeemed me, LORD, God of truth. 6I hate those clinging to worthless idols, * for me, I trust in the LORD. 7In Your faithfulness, I will rejoice and be glad, † because You saw me afflicted. * You know the anguish of my soul. 8And You have not handed me over to my enemy, * but set my feet in a large place. 9Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am in distress, † my eye is wasting away in grief, * my soul and my body too. 10I spend my life consumed in sorrow, * and my years groaning. My strength fails under my guilt, * and my bones are crumbling away. 11Due to my enemies, I have become despised, † an object of dread to my neighbors and friends, * those who see me on the street flee from me. 12I have been forgotten like the dead and cast out of mind, * I am like broken pottery. 13For I have heard many people's slander, and their terror surrounds me, † while they conspire against me, * and plot to take my life. 14But as for me, I trust in You, LORD! † I say, "You are my God. * 15 My days are in Your hands." Rescue me from the hands of my enemies, * and from those who pursue me. 16Shine your face upon Your servant, * save me through Your unfailing love. 17Let me not be put to shame, LORD, for I call upon You, * but let the wicked be ashamed and fall quiet in Sheol. 18Put to silence their lying lips, † for the vile and contemptuous things they speak * in arrogance against the righteous. 19How great is Your goodness! * Which You stored up for those who fear You. In the sight of everyone, You have acted * for those who take refuge in You. 20You shelter them in Your presence, * hiding them from all human conspiracies. You keep them sheltered in secret, * safe from accusing tongues. 21Blessed is the LORD, * while in a city under siege, He showed me His marvelous faithfulness. 22In my alarm I said, * "I am cut off from Your eyes." Yet You still heard my pleas * when I cried out to You for help. 23Love the LORD, all his holy people! † The LORD preserves the faithful, * but rewards the proud in full. 24Be strong and let your heart be courageous, * all you who wait for the LORD.
Sustain me in this World
From the first verse, this psalm strikes an ominous tone. Refuge? Not be ashamed? Needing rescue? One is not in a good state when they are entrusting their spirit to the LORDS hands!
The psalmist is drawing a distinct and showing clear contrast between themselves and the world around them. A world that despises them, and is slowly destroying their body and soul. There is a continued call to be rescued and to find refuge within the Lord. This enemy of theirs appears to have hurt them in the past, and is drawing near again. Yet, the faith and trust the psalmist places in God to sustain them is unwavering.
Amidst the turbulent and focused attacks against them, the psalmist makes the contrast clear. They trust in the Lord, and those after them worship idols. It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that they expect God to deliver them.
Verses 9-13 are the low point for the psalmist. They present themself in a very dark, distraught, and perilous state of being. They have spent their life consumed in sorrow with their eyes, body, and soul waiting away in grief. Despised and dreaded by their neighbors and friends (probably former friends, given the context).
These five verses swirl around an overwhelming and devastating reality. Each verse and each line attempting to articulate the crushing and eviscerating despair. Some of their expressions feel like they come right from life, like ‘hearing many people’s slander’. Others are attempts to express a shattered experience of life, like ‘my bones are crumbling away’, and ‘I am like broken pottery.’
But as for me!
Thus begins a major shift in tone and perspective. From verse 14 through to the end, the psalmist has seemed to exchange darkness for the shine of God’s face, distraught for His goodness, and peril for His marvelous faithfulness. This turn from despair to celebration is common among the psalms. We don’t know the amount of time that has passed between verses 13 and 14. The time between crumbling and celebration. What is but a moment between two sentences for us could be days, months, or years for the author.
Not every point of despair is addressed in this section, but many are. Their voices of slander were responded to with a call for the Lord to silence their lips and to be safe from accusing tongues. While others had conspired against them, now God hides them from all human conspiracies.
The psalm ends in celebration. That our love is not misplaced in the Lord. That the Lord is worthy of our faithfulness and our patience.
23Love the LORD, all his holy people! † The LORD preserves the faithful, * but rewards the proud in full. 24Be strong and let your heart be courageous, * all you who wait for the LORD.
Selecting a Title
The Latin title given to this psalm is ‘Afflícti Supplicátio Cum Fidúcia’ and can be translated into English as ‘Confident Supplications from the Afflicted’. This does a good job summarizing the psalm. There is a notable confidence here that God will step in, and respond to their many calls for help and refuge. The title that we have decided to go with is similar. We have shifted the focus from the state of the psalmist to their desired outcome of refuge. This idea of refuge is ever present in this psalm, and overwhelmingly present in the opening verses. For this reason, we have chosen the title ‘A Confident Prayer for Refuge.’
Initial Translation Finished 14 August 2023 · Psalm Reading Level: 4th Grade
Translations for Urban Monastic are open to refinement and improvement. This has been translated. Yet, this is a reminder that no translation is ever complete. Cultures change, languages change, we better understand the source texts and languages, and adapt them as they get used in context. We will continue to refine and enhance our translations. If you are interested in helping, please let us know!
Paul Prins on 30 January 2006 in Nerja, Spain.