Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 71


THIS psalm has no superscription in the Hebrew. The Septuagint and the Vulgate describe it as “a psalm of David, and of the sons of Jonadab and of the earliest (or ‘former’) exiles.” Though the precise meaning of this superscription is not clear, we learn from it at least that an ancient tradition regarded the psalm rather as a national than as an individual poem. The plural pronoun in the correct Hebrew text of verse 20 supports the communal interpretation of the psalm. Israel has been wonderfully guarded by God throughout her past history; surely now, when the nation has grown old, God will not abandon it. The overthrow of Israel’s political life by the Chaldeans, and the wretchedness of her lot in exile have made her, for the moment, a portent—a terrifying example, to the nations. Her enemies are convinced that she has fallen for ever. Yet, in spite of all, she will not cease to praise the Lord and to ask His help, confident that He will at length lead her forth to freedom and peace. For this grace of rescue which the nation so confidently expects, Israel promises to God a constant service of praising and glorifying song. Those for whom Israel is now a byword and a laughing-stock, and who rejoice in her misfortunes will themselves be brought to shame and confusion when the Lord shall once again establish the national life of His people.

The references to “youth,” “old age” and “grey hairs” might seem, perhaps, to suggest, as more natural, an individual interpretation of this psalm. Yet in several Old Testament contexts the life of the Israelite nation is described as if it were the life of an individual —for instance, in Psalm 129:1-2; Hosea 11:1; Hosea 7:9; Isa 46:3-4, etc. The suggestion of the national meaning of the psalm which is conveyed by the Greek and Vulgate superscriptions may therefore be accepted.

It will be noted that this psalm contains echoes of many other psalms. Thus, verses 1-3 are practically identical with Ps 31:2-4; verse 6 recalls Ps 21:10-11; verse 13 is an adaptation of Ps 35:4 and Ps 35:26, and verse 12 is an echo of Ps 40:13. It is possible that the presence in the psalm of so many echoes or quotations of other psalms occasioned the ascription of the whole psalm to David. It would be a mistake, however, to regard this psalm as nothing more than a mosaic of quotations from Davidic psalms. It is a distinct literary unit, and it is full of deep feeling, both patriotic and religious. Some features of the poem could be more easily understood in reference to the post-exilic than to the exilic period, and it would be convenient, if it were possible, to suppose that, though the psalm was composed during the Exile, it was somewhat modified for use in the liturgy of the post-exilic period.

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3 Responses to Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 71

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C | stjoeofoblog

  2. Pingback: Commentaries for Holy Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday | stjoeofoblog

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