April’s Psalm of the Month: 71

The fourth installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

Spring at West Sayville Reformed Bible Church

Upon You I have leaned from birth,
You’ve guarded all my days;
You took me from my mother’s womb.
I’ll give you constant praise.

Although the twenty-four verses of Psalm 71 form a relatively long text to set to music, the themes of this prayer for deliverance are so interwoven that splitting it into multiple settings would be detrimental. This versification strikes a good balance, offering a compact yet thorough treatment of the psalm. The Psalter Hymnal Committees paired their own new versification of Psalm 71 with Frederick C. Maker’s 1881 tune ST. CHRISTOPHER, most often associated with the hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.”

To avoid losing focus amidst the eight stanzas of this setting, try to identify and bring out patterns, themes, and contrasts in the text as you sing. Offset the plaintive cries of stanzas 2-4 with the confident praise of stz. 5. Give special attention to the words of the enemies at the beginning of stanza 4. Place your breaths at special points in the text for emphasis: for example, at the close of the eighth stanza, consider “Who sought to do me hurt,” (breathe) “O Lord, I’ll magnify Your name.” Reflect on your own experience of God’s faithfulness in both your youth and your old age (stz. 6), and sing Psalm 71 not just as a prayer for help but also as a song of triumph.

Suggested stanzas:

  • 4/5: stanzas 1,2
  • 4/12: stanzas 3-5
  • 4/19: stanzas 6-8
  • 4/26: all

Source: New versification by the OPC and URCNA Psalter Hymnal Committees

Tune only: Blue Psalter Hymnal 353, Revised Trinity Hymnal 251

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 71

  • Present affliction (vv. 1-13) vs. anticipated praise (vv. 14-24)
  • Accusations of God’s distance (v. 11) vs. assurance of God’s nearness (vv. 1-3)
  • The cruel hand of enemies (v. 4) vs. the loving hand of God (vv. 3, 20, 21, 24)
  • The self-confident speech of the wicked (v. 10) vs. the trustful words of the godly one (vv. 15, 16, 18, 22-24)
  • Leaning on God in both youth (vv. 5, 6, 17) and old age (vv. 9, 18)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 71

As he hung on the cross, the words of Psalm 71:10,11 (“For my enemies speak concerning me . . .”) were true in all their desolate horror for Jesus. “There was none to deliver him,” because he had willingly delivered himself over to death in order to redeem us. In the words of one of our Lord’s Supper formularies, “He was once forsaken by God that we might forever be accepted by Him.” Because he has so mercifully saved us, we can rest assured that God will never “cast us off in the time of old age” (v. 9).

Applying Psalm 71

  • Psalm 71 has been called “The Prayer of the Aged Believer” (cf. vv. 9, 18). How does it apply to believers in other stages of life as well?
  • How can suffering in your own life be a “portent” (an evil sign) to others (v. 7)? How can filling your mouth with God’s praise (v. 8) change their perspective?
  • Why does the psalmist ask to be supported in his old age (v. 18)? Do you possess the same motivation?
  • Why does God allow you to “see many troubles and calamities” (v. 20)?

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

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