Forsaken (Psalm 71:18)

And even when [I am] old and gray, O God, do not forsake me,
Until I declare Your strength to [this] generation,
Your power to all who are to come.

Psalm 71:18

This psalm is curious to me on many levels, but stood out for several reasons. First, the psalm’s author is not given. Second, the idea of the psalmist asking God not to forsake him. Third, this psalmist asks God not to forsake him until he (the psalmist) has accomplished a particular task.

The author not being given is not so rare in the psalms. It is merely curious in this case as the psalmist has a particular goal in mind, viz. declaring God’s strength to the following generations. Many psalmists have had much the same goal and the field is not narrowed. However, I think the lack of declared authorship gives the reader something that psalms with a declared author do not. A psalm without a declared author could be written by anyone. It need not be a king or a talented musician or poet who wrote these words. These could be the words of any believer. And this psalm, at any rate, lends itself well to the everyman idea. Any and all believers can and should appropriate the stated goals of this psalmist: to hope continually in God, to declare His righteousness and strength, and to praise Him.

More than once in this psalm, the notion of being forsaken is brought up. In context, the idea seems to be one of God letting the psalmist alone, of leaving him. And this makes perfect sense, as previous verses speak of enemies saying that God has forsaken him (v10-11). It here bears note that God has promised that He will never leave or forsake those who are His (Hebrews 13:5). But there is another possible meaning of the word that fits in the context of this particular verse, that of restoring or repairing. This may seem odd, but it is something that I have sometimes heard from fellow believers. Some believers find that God leaving them in a place of weakness is the best thing for them. Paul wrote something much to this tune when he spoke of asking God to remove a thorn in the flesh and God replied that His (God’s) grace is sufficient, for power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). So it is entirely possible that the psalmist has changed gears and is asking God not to restore him (the psalmist) until he has finished telling everyone about how strong God is.

And that brings me to the last thing that stood out. This notion that the psalmist might want to be left in a place of weakness to better showcase the strength of God. Once the psalmist has finished telling [this] generation about God’s strength, then the psalmist is content to be forsaken (restored?). It may be a stretch, but poetry bears stretch interpretations better than prose. Moreover, it is a stretch that seems to be supported by other passages of scripture. Whether the psalmist meant it this way or not, The Bible does include examples of believers (Paul, most notably) who would rather remain unrestored; weak so that God’s strength is more effectually declared.

In summary, I think that this psalm’s author not being given allows any believer who happens upon it to take these thoughts as our own. I, too, can have a mouth filled with God’s praise all day long and take refuge in God. I, too, can declare God’s strength to this generation. God has promised that He will never leave or forsake me. Though it may feel as though He has and though others may think that He has, He never will. Lastly, let me learn to not only endure weaknesses, but to welcome them that God’s strength may be even more effectively displayed. I am weak in a multitude of things. Let me seek God’s strength in those things that He may be shown mighty through my weakness.

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