Psalm 31 is a song that is composed in similar fashion to a musical form called a concerto. Like a concerto, Psalm 31 has three movements; the first two move from anguish to assurance (verses 1-8, 9-18), and the third movement is a finale of praise (verses 19-24). Also like a concerto uses soloists and an orchestra to alternate between sections of opposition and cooperation, the flow of the Psalm likewise moves from corporate to individual language expressing opposing and cooperating ideas.
In the first two movements of the Psalm a crisis is first introduced and then explored a second time in greater depth. Initially it seems to be an emotionally erratic Psalm, as it moves from valley to peak, only to revisit the valley. The tension and seemingly opposing ideas are expressed as the psalmist floats back and forth between confident reliance on Yahweh’s protection and desperate pleading for deliverance. But by the Psalm’s end, it resolves into an opus of confidence, proving God to be that which He is – a rock, refuge, and shelter in times of an enemy’s onslaught. The refuge that we hope to find during our affliction, is already present. The psalmist finds a way to dwell in the shelter of God’s presence even while his personal context offered him little reasonable hope for escape. He does this by first, finding an identity that is independent of his desperate circumstance, and second, surrendering to God instead of the despair. We can learn from this as we suffer troublesome or even hopeless circumstances: rather than try to find our own way out of our trouble, we ought to fully rely on and commit to God, who holds our time in His hand.
The Psalm is a familiar one to God’s people who endured dire circumstances. The prophet Jeremiah quoted from verse 13, applying it to the terror of his day. The prophet Jonah quoted from verse 6 in his prayer of repentance from the belly of the fish. And our Lord, Jesus quoted from verse 5 in his final words from the cross, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” It seems clear that in quoting these words, Jesus and the prophets before him, intend to call to mind the entire Psalm in its original context. Read Psalm 31 again, but this time as you read, think about how it applies to Jesus as he endures public shame and condemnation on the cross, ultimately trusting God.