Psalm 71: Freedom

‘In your righteousness set me free’ (2)

Lyre player, AlteNatGal
Girl with lyre, Adolf von Hildebrand, c.1910. Alte National Gallery Berlin

The full psalm touches many of the common ideas sprinkled throughout the psalter; the essential goodness and caring nature of the creator, the rock, the strong fortress; the psalmist seeking succour ‘out of the depths’ of harsh experience; assurance of a benign protection against inimical powers, even when we are weak and old; and finally more evidence, if such were needed, that the psalms were sung:

I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, my lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you— I whom you have delivered. (verses 21-24)

These declarations we hear often in other psalms but not from this particular selection since verses 7 to 24 are never included in the lectionary. The full psalm also touches on all stages of life from birth (God as midwife, verse 6) to old age.

But back in verses 1-6, the psalmist rejoices in the firm refuge and deliverance that is his life-long hope and belief. In amongst the rhetoric, there’s an important symbiotic link between the grand themes of the Psalter. In Psalm 37justice flows from wisdom which flows from divine righteousness. Here, the link is between that same fundamental goodness and deliverance or safety.

In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me (v.2. See also 16-21)

There’s an implication that we need to nurture this linkage internally, between a secure spiritual condition and uprightness, individually and as a community. It’s not that simple, of course. The New Testament has plenty to say about this under the keywords faith, works and grace. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13) And remember that other sacred writings will often repeat the call; the Psalter is revered and sung in all three major Abrahamic faiths, affording these common principles relevance to all humanity.


The old age dimension does not arise until verse 9 (‘Do not cast me off in my old age’), so is not included in the reading today. However, responses in both Psalms for all seasons and The emergent psalter are both energised by this idea. Everett specifically notes that feelings of loneliness and abandonment are commonly faced by the ageing, and wrote his refrain as a two-part round ‘to make it clear to the congregation that they weren’t singing alone.’ (p. 141)

Our male voice group has presented these verses to a home-grown TTBB arrangement based on an Eastern Orthodox chant for the Beatitudes. Verse 6 provides the antiphon:

Cantors: You have sustained me since my birth
Response: My praise shall always be of you.

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