An Old Man’s Prayer

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  1  In You, O LORD, do I take refuge; 
	let me never be put to shame! 
  2  In Your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; 
	incline Your ear to me, and save me! 
  3  Be to me a rock of refuge, 
	to which I may continually come; 
     You have given the command to save me, 
	for You are my rock and my fortress. 

  4  Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, 
	from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man. 
  5  For You, O Lord, are my hope, 
	my trust, O LORD, from my youth. 
  6  Upon You I have leaned from before my birth; 
	You are He who took me from my mother’s womb. 
	My praise is continually of You. 

  7  I have been as a portent to many, 
	but You are my strong refuge. 
  8  My mouth is filled with Your praise, 
	and with Your glory all the day. 
  9  Do not cast me off in the time of old age; 
	forsake me not when my strength is spent. 
  10 For my enemies speak concerning me; 
	those who watch for my life consult together 
  11 and say, “God has forsaken him; 
	pursue and seize him, 
	for there is none to deliver him.” 

  12 O God, be not far from me; 
	O my God, make haste to help me! 
  13 May my accusers be put to shame and consumed; 
	with scorn and disgrace may they be covered 
	who seek my hurt. 
  14 But I will hope continually 
	and will praise You yet more and more. 
  15 My mouth will tell of Your righteous acts, 
	of Your deeds of salvation all the day, 
	for their number is past my knowledge. 
  16 With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come; 
	I will remind them of Your righteousness, Yours alone. 

  17 O God, from my youth You have taught me, 
	and I still proclaim Your wondrous deeds. 
  18 So even to old age and gray hairs, 
	O God, do not forsake me, 
     until I proclaim Your might to another generation, 
	Your power to all those to come. 
  19 Your righteousness, O God, 
	reaches the high heavens. 
     You who have done great things, 
	O God, who is like You? 
  20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities 
	will revive me again; 
     from the depths of the earth 
	You will bring me up again. 
  21 You will increase my greatness 
	and comfort me again. 
  22 I will also praise You with the harp 
	for your faithfulness, O my God; 
     I will sing praises to You with the lyre, 
	O Holy One of Israel. 
  23 My lips will shout for joy, 
	when I sing praises to You; 
	my soul also, which You have redeemed. 
  24 And my tongue will talk of Your righteous help all the day long, 
     for they have been put to shame and disappointed 
	who sought to do me hurt (Psalm 71).
“Abishag the Shunamite Tends to King David”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Once, the beautiful young woman who lay in his arms would have stirred his passions. Now she is there simply as a bed warmer when the piles of clothing cannot provide enough warmth to his aged body to counter his poor circulation. Drained of vitality, he is a shell of the man he had once been. And he is tired—exhausted physically and weary of the palace politics and plotting.

Once, he had been a vibrant, charismatic hero. The kind of man about whom people write songs lauding his exploits. As a youth watching his father’s sheep, he’d kill any of the predators coming after the flock. If a bear took a lamb, he’d go after it, strike it with his rod, and pluck the lamb out of the bear’s mouth. He’d grabbed a lion by the beard, strike him, and kill him. He’d slain the fearsome giant with his sling and a stone. Killed 200 Philistines to win his first wife’s hand. He was the darling of the crowds. A great soldier and military commander. He’d be the king that every other king who followed after him would be measured against. His faith was unshakeable. God had even called him “a man after My own heart.”

Not that everything was roses and sunshine. He’d made plenty of mistakes along the way. Call it what it is: He’d sinned. Sinned again God and against his fellow man. There was that sordid affair with Uriah’s wife and the subsequent murderous coverup. That abuse of power and moral failure had severely damaged his reputation and diminished his authority as a king, husband, and father. Add to that at least 20 children from 8 wives (not to mention many concubines) and you have a recipe for a dysfunctional family. One lovesick son defiles his half-sister. His oldest son avenges her honor, killing his half-brother, and then later conspires to seize his father’s throne. Though he refuses to harm the young man, the king’s son ends up dead, hanging on a tree by his fabled hair.

Now, as he nears the end of his life, another son has set himself up to be the next king, defying the feeble and frail old king’s own plan of succession.

The psalmist has been a paradigm of faith, but now that faith is assaulted, including temptations to think his faith may have been in vain. If you listen to the comments of his enemies, his difficult circumstances seem to prove that God is far away. But he remembers God’s faithfulness throughout his life. The Lord has been his refuge and will continue to be. Therefore, he prays for the Lord to help him and to vindicate his faith. By proclaiming the saving deeds of the Lord, David meets the challenges of old age with faith, hope, faithfulness, witness, and praise.

Let’s look more closely at an old man’s prayer.

In Psalm 71, David prays for two things in general—that he might not be put to shame (Psalm 71:1) and that his enemies might be put to shame (Psalm 71:13). David prays that he may never be made ashamed of his dependence on God nor disappointed in his expectations of Him.

Notice how David professes his confidence in God. “In You, O Lord, do I take refuge” (Psalm 71:1). “For You, O Lord, are my hope, my trust” (Psalm 71:5). “You are my strong refuge” (Psalm 71:7).

This confidence in God is supported and encouraged by David’s experiences throughout his life: You are “my trust, O Lord, from my youth” (Psalm 71:5). “Upon You I have leaned from before my birth; You are He who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of You” (Psalm 71:6)

The gracious care that God extends to us when we are most vulnerable in our birth and infancy should encourage us to an early piety and constant devotion to God’s Word. If we receive so much mercy from God before we can do anything for Him, we should lose no time worshiping and praising Him when we are capable. In his present distress, the psalmist finds comfort and strength in remembering not only that God has given him his life and being, but that God had already before that time, made him one of His family. Therefore, David has every reason to believe that God will not forsake him now.

In this confidence, David makes these specific requests to God:

First, that he might never be put to shame, that is, that he might not be disappointed of the mercy he expects, but that his confidence will be affirmed (Psalm 71:1).

Second, David asks that he might be delivered out of the hand of his enemies (Psalm 71:2). Many are watching to see whether David’s trust in the Lord will be vindicated. David knows that God has promised to do so, and God’s promises are sure. The Lord speaks and it is done (Psalm 71:3).

Third, David also prays that he might always find rest and safety in God. Those that live a life of communion with God and trust in Him, that continually come to Him in faith and prayer, find a strong refuge in the Lord (Psalm 71:3).

Fourth, David asks that he might have continual reason for thanksgiving to God, and that he might continually give thanks to the Lord (Psalm 71:8). Those that love God love to be praising Him, and desire to be doing it all the day. They resolve to do it while they live; they hope to be doing it eternally in a better world.

Finally, David prays that he will not be neglected now in his declining years (Psalm 71:9). Notice here, the natural sense David has of the infirmities of age: “when my strength is spent.” Where there was once strength of body and vigor of mind, strong sight, a strong voice, strong limbs, alas! in old age they fail; the life continues but the strength is gone. David desires to be reassured of God’s presence with him under these infirmities. He realizes that he would be undone if God abandons him. To be cast off and forsaken by God is a thing to dreaded at any time, especially in the time of old age and when our strength fails us; for it is God that is the strength of our heart. David intimates that he has reason to hope God will not desert him. Faithful servants of God may be comfortably assured that He will not cast them off in old age, nor forsake them when their strength fails them. God is a Master who is not likely to cast off old servants.[i]

David also prays that his enemies might be made ashamed of their plans against him. Notice what they say against him: “God has forsaken him; pursue and seize him, for there is none to deliver him.” Because a good man is in great trouble and has continued long in it and is not delivered as soon as he perhaps expects, they assume that God has forsaken him and want nothing more to do with him. Their assumptions are all wrong, and so their conclusion: “If God has forsaken him, let’s persecute him and seize him and take his life.”

It is true, if God has forsaken a man, there is none to deliver him, but David knows better. “May my accusers be put to shame and consumed,” he prays. “With scorn and disgrace may they be covered who seek my hurt.” If his enemies will not be ashamed of their actions, repent, and be saved, then let them suffer God’s everlasting wrath and shame.

In the second portion of this psalm, David turns to joy and praise, arising from his faith and hope in God. We have both in verse 14: “But I will hope continually and will praise You yet more and more.”

Since we hope in One that will never fail us, let not our hope in Him fail us, and then we shall praise Him yet more and more. The longer we live, the more expert we should grow in praising God and the more we should abound in it.[ii] David’s heart is established in faith and hope.

Notice what David hopes in (Psalm 71:16). In the power of God, the “mighty deeds of the Lord.” Rather than trust in his own works and strength, David trusts in God’s strength—in the strength of His providence and of His grace. David hopes in the promise of God (Psalm 71:16).

And what does David hope for. He hopes that God will not leave him in his old age but will be the same to him to the end as He has been all along. Notice what God has done for him when he was young. “From my youth You have taught me” (Psalm 71:17). The good education and good instructions which his parents gave him when he was young, David realizes are a great favor from God. It is a blessed thing to be taught of God from our youth, from our childhood to know the Holy Scriptures, and for this we have great reason to bless God.

God was with David and David had continued to proclaim God’s wondrous deeds as he grew up so that others might know and trust the Lord also (Psalm 71:17). Now that he has reached “old age and gray hairs,” David desires “O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim Your might to another generation.”

The greatest thing that we can leave our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren is a love of the Lord and an abiding trust in Him. As long as we live, we should seek to glorify God and to edify one another. And those that have the largest and longest experience of the goodness of God should share their experiences for the good of their family and friends.[iii] It is a debt which the older disciples of Christ owe to the succeeding generations to leave behind them a solemn testimony to the power, pleasure, and advantage of the Christian faith, and the truth of God’s promises.

David hopes that God will revive him and raise him out of his present low and miserable condition (Psalm 71:20). He hopes that God will not only deliver him out of his troubles but will advance His honor and joy more than ever. He hopes that all his enemies will be put to shame and disappointed. He speaks of it as if it is already done: “They have been put to shame and disappointed who seek to do me hurt” (Psalm 71:24).

David knows that ultimately his prayers will be fully granted in the resurrection. In his old age, the psalmist confidently anticipates his resurrection from the grave. “You who have made me to see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth You will bring me up again” (Psalm 71:20). Then will his strength be returned. Then will his greatness be increased, surpassing anything in this life. Then will David’s enemies—even his greatest enemies of sin, death, and the devil—be conquered finally. Then will David and all of God’s redeemed and resurrected sons and daughters sing the praises of the Lord and speak of His righteous help all the day long for eternity.

I titled this “An Old Man’s Prayer,” but really it is a beautiful prayer for every Christian of all ages. Although David speaks movingly of his personal experience, the focus is not David but God. Mighty acts and marvelous deeds, righteousness and salvation too great to measure—these are the themes of David’s prayer. And they are themes of his message for all generations and ages to follow.

Like David, we have experienced love that is too great to measure. The love of Christ that surpasses knowledge—who can know how wide and how long and how high and how deep it is? Who is like our God? Who else can save? His righteousness alone is the way to salvation. This saving love of God is to be the theme of our songs and our message for all generations to come.

The last years of life are often difficult for Christians today, just as they were for David. The pains and weaknesses of old age often make Christians eager or even impatient to leave this life. But if God leaves us here only to declare His goodness, which we have experienced through a lifetime, that is reason enough for us to be here. If we have no power left to do anything but declare God’s power to the next generation, that is reason enough to be content until He calls us home.

May we come boldly before the throne of grace each day of our lives, trusting that God will never disappoint the hope that He has given us. When our last days draw near, may we direct our thoughts heavenward and to the resurrection, so that we may be confident of deliverance, either by healing and longer earthly life or through death, which ushers us into the Lord’s presence. There, we will join David and all the saints and angels in singing the praises of our God and Savior Jesus Christ for eternity. Amen

The peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[i] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 844). Hendrickson.

[ii] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 844). Hendrickson.

[iii] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 844). Hendrickson.

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