You are my refuge and defence; guide me and lead me as you have promised.
Psalm 31:3 GNB (Good News Bible)
This is the sixth (published fifth) of 20 memory verses that I will use as a guide/focal point to writing these articles. The “Table of Contents” is available here in the series introductory article.
As of this memory verse article within the series, the commentary and analysis shared here will incorporate a new technique based on Interpreting the Bible, a short course being delivered by Clayton Church of Christ – Equip School:
- Choose a passage and translation
- Study the literary context:
- immediate context
- context of the book/passage
- context of other writings by the author
- context of the whole bible
- Study the historic-cultural background
- Do a verse-by-verse analysis, word study, grammatical – structural relationships and ultimately the cross-references.
Immediate & Passage Literary Context
The immediate context for Psalm 31:3 is the chapter/passage itself – Psalm 31:1-5 NIV:
1 In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.
2 Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.
3 Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
4 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.
This is a prayer and praise for deliverance from enemies. As a whole, Psalm 31 can be considered in four blocks:
- Verse 1 – 6: David prays for help
- Verse 7 – 8: God sends help
- Verse 9 – 18: David prays for help again
- Verse 19 – 24: God sends help again
Here you can see the contrast of the two versions – NIV versus GNB. “Refuge and defence” in GNB become “rock and fortress” in the NIV translation. A fortress in those days was a safe place typically constructed out of rock and stones. Interestingly, the other phrase is translated from “for the sake of Your name” compared to “as you have promised”. Using these two translations/versions of the Bible, we can easily reconcile and get the meaning of refuge, defence, rock and fortress; all four words are similar in meaning. Harmonising the second half of verse 3 is also explainable when you realise that to do things for God, and in His name, God’s promises are yes and amen, or as promised.
In analysing the wider passage of verses 1 – 5, David was writing this to express the danger he was in. The likely context here is that it would have been one of the times when King Saul was pursuing him and hunting him down. David prayed to God. The wording of verse 1 “put to shame” means allowing the enemies to win, or in the proper context of the entire verse – David was seeking that his enemies would NOT win, or find him. In his hour of need, David had no where else to turn except to God and His glory. Thus, alone in the Lord, David sought safety away from the pursuit of Saul.
Verse 3 is thus powerful in directing us, during times of trouble to focusing our eyes on the Lord, to His ways as the guiding path forwards. In evoking the name of the Lord, David also demonstrated the faith he had in the Lord, and His name. That God would deliver him from Saul, and in doing so, would affirm His holiness and glory. Thus, God made His name and reputation by answering David’s plea for deliverance. Our deliverance is not just God’s grace at work, but also a reflection of His glory.
This memory verse again jam packs so much into so little. That the Lord is our refuge, defence, rock and fortress is our affirmation of faith in Him. God’s glory and righteousness will be our deliverance. In one sense, verse 3 itself is an echo of the exact same sentiments seen in both verses 1 and 2; all three verses being by focusing on God and His nature and then shifting to our need for Him and in doing so, giving Him the glory. In this way, David demonstrates his utmost humility before the Lord. This pattern is known as synonymous parallelism which is a key characteristic of the Psalms as a form of poetry.
Wider Literary Context
Consider our writings of David, the primary author behind Psalms. The Psalms are generally attributed to his penmanship, although the headings that tend to preface the various passages of Psalm were added later, and could have also translated as Psalms “for David” or “to David”. However, various Psalms can be aligned to events of his life – for example Psalm 34 is attributed to David when he feigned madness to escape King Achish of the Abimelech. Now, according to the literary contextualisation effort, other writings by David should be sought. However, David’s only contribution to the bible is merely part of the Psalms, so no other sources are available.
The Psalms are unique as a literary genre within the Bible; they are of poetry form, a hymn or song written in worship of God. The collection of 150 Psalms are grouped into five distinct sections, each book-ended by a benediction:
- Book 1 (Psalms 1–41)
- Book 2 (Psalms 42–72)
- Book 3 (Psalms 73–89)
- Book 4 (Psalms 90–106)
- Book 5 (Psalms 107–150)
Instead of a traditional literary contextualisation for the Psalms, a German Old Testament scholar by the name of Hermann Gunkel wrote a book: The Psalms: A Form-Critical Introduction in 1926. He identified five types for grouping Psalms:
- Communal laments
- Royal Psalms
- Individual laments
- Individual thanksgiving
For Psalm 31, it is an example of individual lament and further, also a Psalm of confidence; there is much wisdom conveyed by the poetry.
One of the key purposes of using and applying literary context to Bible verses is for application. The application of a Psalm verse is typically on our worship of and to God.
Thus, key questions and challenges that Psalm 31:3 evoke, include:
- Is God your refuge and source of stability in your life when things are tough?
- When we face trials and difficulties, do we turn our eyes to Jesus for guidance and direction?
- Is Jesus our rock and firm foundation?
It is often easy to praise God during the good times, but we are taught and it is a clear lesson here that it is equally important to bless and glorify God in the bad times. Yes, it is a difficult challenge initially, but over time, as we grow in the Lord, eventually it should become natural to us to simply give God the glory in all things – good or bad.
Psalm 31:3 contains keywords which have surfaced in our modern day worship experience. The general theme of God as our source of refuge and fortress/tower is seen in the second verse of Shout to the Lord:
My comfort, my shelter,
Tower of refuge and strength;
Let every breath, all that I am
Never cease to worship You.
Whilst Darlene Zschech’s story on the song origins does not identify any one single Psalm, it is safe to say that Psalm 31:3 is amongst the various Psalm verses that influenced and guided her choice of lyrics for this verse. Perhaps this is an addition modern way in which we can truly commit Psalm 31:3 to memory.