A psalm divided into three stanzas by the selahs at v4 and v8, Psalm 62 contrasts the protection and defence that comes from God with the fickle and deceitful ways of man. God’s role as Protector, Defender and Judge frames the psalm, and the middle verses (v5-8) focus entirely on this, exhorting us to trust in Him at all times. This means that the psalm moves through the following sequence:

God v1-2 – man v3-4 – God v5-8 – man v9-10 – God v11-12

There are also some interesting connections between the stanzas. The first stanza starts with the reliability of God and then sets this against the turncoat habits of man; the final stanza inverts this, beginning with man and finishing with God, thus enabling the psalm to start and end with God in its outer stanzas and have that central piece all about God in the middle.

But there are also close connections between the first two stanzas. They both begin with an almost identical refrain (v1-2, v5-6):

  1. Truly my soul waiteth upon God:
    From him cometh my salvation.
  2. He only is my rock and my salvation;
    He is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved.

compared with:

  1. My soul, wait thou only upon God;
    For my expectation is from him.
  2. He only is my rock and my salvation:
    He is my defence; I shall not be moved.

While there are some minor variations (v1a is a statement, v5a a personal exhortation; ‘salvation’ becomes ‘expectation’ in the repeat), the essential force is the same: God alone should be our source of defence. Interestingly, the realism of ‘I shall not be greatly moved’ (‘I might be moved or shaken a little bit, but with God’s help I shall essentially hold my ground’) grows as the psalm progresses into the simpler, stronger and more emphatic conviction of v6b: ‘I shall not be moved’.

This concept of steadfastness and immovability provides a great foil for one of the most distinctive images of the psalm in v3cd: the enemies as a ‘bowing wall’ and a ‘tottering fence’. Like a dilapidated fence or a crumbling wall no longer properly able to either retain what is inside or to protect from what is without, these people are notable for their unreliability and the inconsistency between what they say and what they do. Wavering and blowing in the wind they are neither use nor ornament. Only God as rock and defence provides the protection and salvation which is required, and this is the essential point of the psalm – to trust only in Him.

To the chief Musician, to Jeduthun, A Psalm of David.

  1. Truly my soul waiteth upon God:
    From him cometh my salvation.
  2. He only is my rock and my salvation;
    He is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved.
  3. How long will ye imagine mischief against a man?
    Ye shall be slain all of you:
    As a bowing wall shall ye be,
    And as a tottering fence.
  4. They only consult to cast him down from his excellency:
    They delight in lies: they bless with their mouth,
    But they curse inwardly. Selah.
  5. My soul, wait thou only upon God;
    For my expectation is from him.
  6. He only is my rock and my salvation:
    He is my defence; I shall not be moved.
  7. In God is my salvation and my glory:
    The rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God.
  8. Trust in him at all times; ye people,
    Pour out your heart before him:
    God is a refuge for us. Selah.
  9. Surely men of low degree are vanity,
    And men of high degree are a lie:
    To be laid in the balance,
    They are altogether lighter than vanity.
  10. Trust not in oppression,
    And become not vain in robbery:
    If riches increase, set not your heart upon them.
  11. God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this;
    That power belongeth unto God.
  12. Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy:
    For thou renderest to every man according to his work.

Stability and protection

The psalm is all about who can provide security and be a source of trust, and nowhere is this more evident than in the first stanza. The first four lines are emphatic – ‘truly’ God must be our hope; He ‘only’ is our rock and salvation. By contrast the wicked have no stability at all; they have no moral anchor, they are two-faced, saying one thing and meaning another; they delight in what is not real (‘lies’ v5b). They ‘consult to cast down’ instead of protecting, but it is they who exhibit the real lack of stability and who, like the tottering fence, will ultimately fall.

One of the interesting features of the psalm that it’s a little hard to spot in English translation is the repeated use of a little Hebrew word ‘ach’ (pronounced a bit like one might if it were a German exclamation). This term can be translated in various ways from ‘yes!’ and ‘surely!’ to ‘only’ or ‘nevertheless’ – there’s an element of asserting something in the face of opposition or the possibility of other options about it; it is an assertive term. It appears no less than six times at the beginning of v1,2,4,5,6,9, and while it might be a bit forced in English to translate it the same way every time (KJV opts variously for ‘truly, only, only, only, only, surely’), we can at least see the repetition this way:

Yes, upon God my soul waits in silence (v1)
Yes, He is my rock and my salvation (v2)
Yes, they (even!) consult to cast him down… (v4)
Yes my soul, wait in silence upon God! (v5)
Yes, He is my rock and my salvation (v6)
Yes, men of low degree are (indeed) vanity (v9)

Ironically, one could also translate it as ‘No!’ in almost all these instances, again to capture that slightly adversative feel to it. Or you could go through again and replace with ‘indeed’ or (in most cases) ‘only’.

It’s interesting that the metaphor of a boundary marker should be chosen to describe the wicked (the bowing wall and the tottering fence) because their problem is essentially one of not being able to discern proper boundaries of behaviour: they behave in any way that seems to be the most convenient at the time; they are not able to distinguish between what is and is not appropriate in their treatment of other people and in their lack of consistency. This internal moral dilapidation results in someone not being able to function reliably in relation to other people, and ultimately it calls down the condemnation of God. There is personal exhortation here. While there is another danger of erecting walls and fences where they do not need to be (usually for the ‘benefit’ of others!), the importance of consistency and principle in one’s personal discipleship and interactions with others is critical.

As we’ve noted, the second stanza amends the beginning of the first by its exhortation to be more totally reliant and more wholehearted in trusting in God. We should wait in patience for Him (literally, in silence). In these verses (v5-8) we are not distracted by considering unstable enemies, which gives more space to continue to celebrate the steadfastness of God. This stanza piles on the epithets to describe Him: He is our ‘salvation, glory, rock, strength,’ and ‘refuge’ all rolled into one! He is everything that we need to protect us against the outward storms of life and the inward torment of our hearts.

The passage widens in scope in its final verse (v8): up to now all the pronouns have been first person (‘my soul, my expectation, my salvation, my refuge…’) but in v8 it becomes an exhortation to all of us:

Trust in him at all times; ye people,
Pour out your heart before him:
God is a refuge for us. Selah. (v8)

The ‘I’ has become ‘us’ – and though salvation begins as an individual relationship which we must each work out with our Maker, it grows to encompass others; we have a mutual responsibility. We are encouraged, then, to ‘trust in Him at all times’ and to ‘pour out our heart before Him.’ There is nothing that is closed off or private to Him and no part of our lives where He cannot act. So there is no need to hide and no point in it either.

Twice have I heard this

The psalm now widens out tin v9-12 to consider God’s overall oversight of the world and of good and evil in particular. It sets God and man in scale in relation to one another just as the first stanza had, and it explains that God will render to everyone according to their work – a principle taken up and further elaborated in the New Testament.

We begin by thinking about humans. Whoever they are, whether high or low, they are not what they seem in importance or substance. They are of themselves essentially lightweight and insubstantial (‘vanity’, ‘lighter than vanity’), whatever their reputation and achievements. In the balances of God’s judgments they are small and little to be accounted of. They do things to try to amass value, to gain ‘might’ (ESV ‘riches’) and significance (the concepts of riches / substance / strength / power / valour can all be described using the same term in Hebrew); they may even lie and cheat, rob and steal to achieve it, so desperate are they to attain more significance in the balances of life. But it is all to no avail, riches are no true ‘weight’ or substance in God’s sight, and the balances still go up rather than down when a ‘powerful’ man is put on them! It’s worth reading the verses again in a more modern version:

Those of low estate are but a breath;
Those of high estate are a delusion;
In the balances they go up;
They are together lighter than a breath.
…If riches increase, set not your heart on them.

Whether status or reputation (education, career, social status, appearance) or size of house, bank balance or net worth: these are not the things that matter or which define true wealth or substance in the sight of God. We can be so impressed by experts, by academic achievement and expertise (for example), just as we can be sucked in by the external trappings of success. We can mistakenly ascribe to others an almost godlike authority because of some human status they might have. But as the book of Ecclesiastes teaches so well, these things are vanity, a delusion. We should not put our trust of affection in such things but should trust instead in God, which brings us, finally, to the last two verses of the psalm:

God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this;
That power belongeth unto God.
Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy:
For thou renderest to every man according to his work.

The big puzzle here is about the ‘once … twice’ in v11: what does this refer to? We do in several places find x, x+1 patterns in Scripture (for example Job 33:14; 40:5; ’six things … yea seven’ Prov 6:16; 30:18 etc). In the latter examples it is really the last number which is key (the four transgressions, the seven things God hates), and if that is the case here then we are really looking for something which has two elements to it or which has been said twice. Although there is something which has been said twice in the psalm – the four lines at the start of the first two stanzas (v1-2, 5-6) – those words are the (inspired) words of the psalmist, rather than a direct quote of God Himself.

Perhaps a better option therefore is that the the ‘two things’ spoken of are the two attributes of God’s power and mercy (‘power belongeth unto God. Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy’). In which case you could read v11a like this: ‘One thing God has spoken, two things have I learned/heard…’ Alternatively, if we are to see an increasing emphasis between the one thing and the two things (the x, x+1 pattern) then the passage would have the sense: ‘God has said that power belongs to Him, but He has said even more so that mercy belongs to Him.’

The bringing together of power and grace or mercy is terrifically important. German commentator Artur Weiser makes the following observation:

“It is in the union of power and grace that the essential nature of the Old Testament belief in God is truly expressed; for power without grace does not admit of any trust, and grace without power is deprived of its ultimate seriousness.”

Since power belongs to God it follows that it is not for man to take it, pretend to it, or proudly fool himself that he has it. A different word for ‘power’ is used here than the word ‘riches’ (which can also mean strength/might) in v10c, usefully making a distinction between any apparent human might and the power of God Himself. But this ‘power’ is complemented and beautifully balanced by God’s mercy or lovingkindness. God is not ‘just’ about power or bombast, then; this attribute of His is balanced by tenderness and steadfast love. God approaches His work of judgment and recompense (the very last line of the psalm) with these two attributes to guide His work.

The psalm closes, therefore, by reminding us that God will visit us all and render to us according to our work. He is powerful to do this because He is God, but He is a God who is merciful. We need to think carefully, then, about our works, particularly to ensure that we don’t exert power over others (cf v10a ‘oppression’), and trust in His mercy. Since He will be the judge we should turn aside from any reliance on the bowing walls or tottering fences of human ingenuity and instead make Him our trust and defence, relying on His power to reward good and evil.

Additional Note

We have taken the reference to the bowing wall and the tottering fence as a reference to the precarious state of the enemies – they are not to be greatly feared because they are insubstantial and they will ultimately collapse under their own weight. This is how the passage is read by the KJV and various translators and commentators. There is another possibility which is now favoured perhaps by a slight majority: that the enemies are treating the psalmist like the precarious fence, eager to push it over and see it gone. This reading requires some small vowel changes, and an example of such a translation would be the one in Tate’s commentary: ’How long will you assault a person; all of you attacking as you would a leaning wall or a battered parapet’. On such a reading their actions are the opposite of what is expressed of the Lord Jesus Christ: that a bruised reed he would not break and a smoking flax he would not quench. The enemies have no time for such ‘soft’ behaviour (as they would see it); they are too intent on the pursuit of their own selfish ambitions, and if weak people get in the way they should expect to be pushed aside or worse.

Written By Mark Vincent