The Rock That Is Higher Than I part 1

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Tom Lowe

PSALM 61

Title: The Rock That Is Higher Than I

A Psalm of David, to the chief Musician, to Jeduthun, on a stringed instrument (Neginah)


Theme: Cry and confidence of the godly



Psalm 61 (KJV)

1 Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.
2 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.
3 For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.
4 I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. Selah.
5 For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name.
6 Thou wilt prolong the king's life: and his years as many generations.
7 He shall abide before God for ever: O prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him.
8 So will I sing praise unto thy name for ever, that I may daily perform my vows.

Introduction

Psalms 61-63 have the common theme of yearning for God during a time of trouble. Psalm 61 was written by David, probably about the time of Absalom’s rebellion. He wrote a footnote assigning the psalm to “the chief Musician, to Jeduthun.” Jeduthun is another name for Ethan, a Levite of the tribal family of Merari. When Israel marched through the wilderness the sons of Merari did the heavy work in connection with the Tabernacle. They carried the boards and bars, the pillars and sockets. Now Jeduthun, the Merarite, was one of the three directors of the temple worship. The others were Asap and Hemam (1 Chronicles 16:37, 42). Jeduthun “prophesied with a harp, to give thanks and to praise the Lord” (1 Chronicles 25:3). His name means “to confess” or “to give thanks.” David gives Jeduthun something to sing about when he dedicates Psalm 61 to him.

David probably wrote this psalm after Absalom’s rebellion had been crushed by Joab. The king himself was still with Barzillai at Mahanaim, and Absalom was dead. It looked as though the way was now clear for the king to return to Jerusalem. But David knew the uncertain temperament of his people. He could not yet be sure that there would not be more fighting before his troubles were over. This psalm, then, would seem to be the prayer of one exiled from home (v. 2), longing for access to the tabernacle of the Lord (v. 4)

Some commentators teach that this psalm is a lament of a king. He is, so they say, likely to be ill, for he feels himself to be at “the end of the earth (v. 2).” This phrase does not imply simply geographical distance from Jerusalem and the Temple. Instead, it refers to the entrance to the chasm of the underworld, the realm of the dead. He is weighed down by enemies. All in all, the Kings spirit is low, and he feels insecure. With a cry for help, for a sure grip on life, he appeals to God (v. 1).

Commentary

61:1-4: THERE WAS NO IMMEDIATE DANGER. BARZILLAI WAS ENTERTAINING THE KING IN A STYLE BEFITTING ROYALTY. THE OLD GENTLEMAN’S HEART WAS FILLED TO OVERFLOWING WITH THIS OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW HIS LOVE AND LOYALTY TO DAVID. NOTHING WAS TOO GOOD FOR THE KING OR TOO MUCH TROUBLE FOR THE OLD CLANSMAN. BUT DAVID, ALTHOUGH HE APPRECIATED THE MAGNIFICENT GENEROSITY, LONGED TO BE BACK HOME IN JERUSALEM, BACK IN THE TENT OF MEETING WHERE GOD DWELLED IN THE MIDST OF HIS PEOPLE

1 Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.
There have been several translations of the word “cry.” It has been rendered “a piercing cry,” “a plaintive cry” and “a ringing cry.” My prayer, My cry! —how heartfelt and personal it is! — you seldom hear that deep heart cry in prayer any more, but you will find it in David’s prayer.

David was an emotional man. His great heart still mourned the wickedness and ingratitude of Absalom. Now Absalom was dead. There was something particularly symbolic about the way that rebellious young man had died. While he was riding on a mule, his hair was caught in the branches of a tree, and “the mule that was under him went away” (2 Samuel 18:9). While dangling helplessly and kicking futility at the empty air, he had been discovered and murdered by Joab. David had loved Absalom. He had forgiven him once and he would have forgiven him again. What stabbed David through and through was the thought that now there was no hope for Absalom. He had sinned away the Lord’s offer of grace. David would have forgiven him, but God who knows far better than we do where and when to draw the line, had not forgiven him. God had caused him to be hanged upon a tree. David knew the law well. “Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.” So his dear, oft sinning, handsome Absalom was dead and damned, beyond the reach of pardon or peace. The thought of it was like an open nagging sore in David’s soul. He knew only too well how much, by his own misbehavior, he had contributed to Absalom’s wicked ways.

“Hear my piercing cry, O God!” Lord, help me! David knew he had no place to go but to God. Anyone who has known desolation of soul knows what David’s cry was like.


2 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.
“From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed.” Sorrow is bad enough when it can be suffered in one’s own home, when one can be alone in familiar surroundings. It is harder to bear when staying with someone else, for then it has to be stifled and muted. There is the aggravation of the pitying eye and well-meaning solicitudes of others when all one wants is to be left alone.

David was far from home in the beautiful farm country of Gilead. He was with generous friends, but he wanted to be home. Mahanaim was only two or three days’ journey from Jerusalem and well within the frontiers of the Promised Land, but to David it seemed like “the end of the earth”—a phrase that could refer either to geographical or spiritual distance. He might just as well have been in Egypt. He was away from home, away from the place where God dwelled between the cherubim upon the mercy seat. “My heart is overwhelmed,” he cried, meaning either his strength is gone or his courage has failed him. “The end of the earth” is any place of extreme sorrow or depression; it is equivalent to the uttermost of which Hebrews 7:25 speaks—“ Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. We are never really far off from God; but, due to depression, and physical weakness, and the oppression of our foes, we may feel that we are. But we are never too far off to pray to Him, or, as in the case of Jonah, so far down (Jonah 2).

Can I ask you a question? When you pray, have you ever felt that God is way up in the heavens and you are way down here? David feels that he is at “the end of the earth{1]” and God is way off yonder. He is trying to get closer. He wants to get to “a Rock that is higher” than he is. The reason I am opposed to this modern viewpoint of Jesus is because the Jesus who is presented is not a superstar at all. He is just a man like I am. He is a rock that is no higher than I am. I need to be led to “the Rock that is higher than I.” The “rock” must be someone greater than man; otherwise man can never find shelter in it. The Word of God tells me that that “Rock” is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4), and He is a lot “higher than I” am. What a picture we have here of the Lord!

“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,” he said. What rock is this? It could only be the Rock of Ages; contrasting himself with God. Cleft for us, O, Rock of Ages! And yet we cannot climb up into its clefts: we need the hand of Divine grace to lift us up there, and keep us there. God told Moses, “When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by” (Exodus 33:22). “Higher than I” is literally “too high for me.” The meaning is clear: God has resources far beyond man’s puny power. These are the words of a man aware of his own failure and frailty. Sorrows surged around him like the rolling billows of the sea. He was going under and could find neither help nor hiding place in himself or in his friends, any one of whom would have died for him. Indeed, some already had.

In the language of the ideology of his day the “Rock” was the opposite of the underworld of Satan. This mystical language that was common throughout the Near East, however, had a basis in fact for Israel. For David had purchased from the self-employed farmer, Araunah, the rock on his property on which he had trained his bullocks to tread out the grains of his barley and wheat. This incident is found at 2 Samuel 24:18-25. Later on David’s son, Solomon, built his temple over this rock. The rock is visible to this day as it stands within the great Mosque of Omar, which is known now as the “Dome of the Rock.”

David was facing the bitterest of all experiences. He realized that he had been his own worst enemy. If he had not sinned with Bathsheba many years ago, none of these sorrows would be swirling now around his soul. He longed for God to lift him above his troubles: “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” He needed God, for he himself was a failure.

{1] “The end of the earth” perhaps refers to the brink of the underworld.

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