This is a psalm of David in a time of affliction. Because he is likely king at this time (see v. 6), and because he longs to be restored to the tabernacle (v. 4), it would be safest to locate this psalm as being written during the time of Absalom’s rebellion. So this is not just a matter of danger for David (which he had faced many times before), but of mortal danger from a dearly loved son.
“Hear my cry, O God; Attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: Lead me to the rock that is higher than I . . .” (Psalm 61:1-8).
Summary of the Text
First, this is not a dispassionate prayer. David cries out, “Hear my cry, O God” (v. 1). He is in a desperate way. He will cry out to God from the ends of the earth, which indicates some form of exile (v. 2). When he is overwhelmed, when his heart is overwhelmed, he asks that he be led to a rock that is higher than he is (v. 2). God has been a shelter for him in times past, a strong tower against the enemy (v. 3). This indicates that on the top of the rock that is higher than David there is a fortress. Having presented the request, David declares his confidence that he will return to the tabernacle to be there forever, and that he will trust in the covert of God’s wings (v. 4). He then says Selah, which most likely means something like “pause and reflect.”
David has made vows, and God has heard them (v. 5). He is confident that he has been given the heritage of those who fear God (v. 5). The king’s life will be prolonged, and his years will be extended like they were generations (v. 6). He will abide with God forever (v. 7), and mercy and truth will do it. God will be praised forever, and He will be praised forever daily (v. 8).
Attend to My Prayer
Here is a striking difference between the formalist and the true believer. The formalist is content with having prayed. The true believer has a holy discontent until he has an answer. The formalist checks the box that says he has “said his prayers,” but he, along with everybody else knows that prayers are not meant to be answered. God, for some mysterious reason, wants us to say them, but He isn’t listening. Away with all that. The psalmist says “Hear my cry, O God.” He says, “attend to my prayer.”
The Ends of the Earth
It might be the end of the earth, but it is not the end of prayer. It may be far away from the tabernacle, but God is no local baal tied to just one mountain, or to one shrine. David’s distance might be geographical, as a man might pray when lost on a glacier in Greenland. Or David’s distance might be ecclesiastical—where the tabernacle was taken as the very center of all things. Either way, or both, God is immediately there. Wherever God is, there is the true center.
So the end of the earth is not the end of prayer, but the end of prayer is the end of man.
A Rock That is Higher
Not only does David not have a Rock that is higher than he is, he doesn’t know where it is. He knows
there is one, but he can’t find it, and he can’t get up on it. His cry is to the one who can accomplish a full deliverance. The first thing is that he must be led to the Rock; he needs to be shown where it is. And because the Rock is higher than he is, two things follow—if he gets up on it, he will be saved, but because it is higher than he is, he can’t get up on it. He needs to be led there, and he needs to be placed there.
And just being led there is not enough. Picture this great danger along a rocky coast, and you are a mariner whose ship has foundered. The shoreline is a series of rocky cliffs—your salvation from the waves is there, right there. You can see it now. But seeing it and being on it are two entirely different things.
No Expiration Date
God’s past kindnesses do not have an expiration date. Notice how David prays from the past to the future, from “thou hast been a shelter . . . (v. 3)” to “I will abide . . . I will trust” (v. 4), from “God, hast heard . . .” (v. 5) and “hast given” (v. 5) to “Thou wilt prolong . . .” (v. 6).
God’s faithfulness in the past is a sure indication of His faithfulness in the future. God’s hard providences are sometimes hard, sometimes tangled and messy, sometimes inscrutable, but always faithful. The plots twists are often over our heads, but the happy endings never are. The Christian cosmos is a comedy, not a tragedy, and not a farce.
Contentment is a Gift
If contentment is a gift from God, and it is, then it is appropriate for us to plead for it. And when we are pleading for it, it only stands to reason that we know that we do not yet have it. You don’t know where it is, or how it can be, but you know who has it to give.
David wanted to be back at the tabernacle. The shelter of God’s wings might be seen in the Holy of Holies, with the wings (“the covert of thy wings”) of the cherubim extending over the mercy seat.
Jesus is that mercy seat. Jesus is the Rock that is higher, much higher, than we are. Jesus is the tower fortress on top of that Rock. Jesus is the tabernacle. Jesus welcomes you under the covering of His wings. Jesus is your heritage. Jesus is mercy and truth. Jesus is the fulfillment of all our vows.
What do you do, then, when your heart is overwhelmed? You fly, you fly to Jesus. Nothing else makes any sense.