Psalm 142 – My Only Refuge
Psalm 142 is titled A Contemplation of David. A Prayer when he was in the cave.
The Hebrew word for Contemplation (maskil) could be better translated as instruction. “He calls this prayer Maschil, ‘a Psalm of instruction,’ because of the good lessons he had himself learned in the cave, learned on his knees, and so learned that he desired to teach others.” (Matthew Henry, cited in Charles Spurgeon)
The cave was probably Adullam cave, mentioned in 1 Samuel 22:1, though the caves of En Gedi (1 Samuel 24:1) are also a possibility. Adullam seems to be the best fit, which would suggest that Psalms 34 and 57 are also associated with this period of David’s life.
“There are two notes running side by side throughout the song. The first is that of this terrible sense of helplessness and hopelessness so far as man is concerned. The other is that of the determined application of the helpless soul to Jehovah.” (G. Campbell Morgan)
A. The preface to David’s prayer.
1. (1) David’s cry to the LORD.
I cry out to the LORD with my voice;
With my voice to the LORD I make my supplication.
a. I cry out to the LORD: This was more than David’s appeal for help. It was also his declaration of allegiance to Yahweh, the God of Israel. David knew about the pagan gods worshipped by the surrounding Gentiles, but he determined that he would never cry out to them – only to the LORD.
i. “Trouble and lack of human sympathy or help have done their best work on him, since they have driven him to God’s breast. He has cried in vain to man; and now he has gathered himself up in a firm resolve to cast himself upon God.” (Maclaren)
ii. “Caves make good closets for prayer; their gloom and solitude are helpful to the exercise of devotion. Had David prayed as much in his palace as he did in his cave, he might never have fallen into the act which brought such misery upon his later days.” (Spurgeon)
b. With my voice; with my voice to the LORD: As a man of deep spiritual experience, David knew that there were many ways to cry out to the LORD – in thought, in feeling, in action. Here David cried out to God with his voice, feeling that silent feelings were not enough for his present need.
i. “David, like Bartimaeus in the Gospels, knows the value of refusing to relapse into silence. That way lies despair.” (Kidner)
ii. “The state of David in the cave of Adullam was a state of utter destitution. Persecuted by his own countrymen, dismissed by Achish, and not yet joined by his own relations, or any other attendants, he took refuge in the cave, and was there alone.” (Horne)
2. (2) David’s complaint to the LORD.
I pour out my complaint before Him;
I declare before Him my trouble.
a. I pour out my complaint before Him: David had a complaint to bring before God. As this psalm develops, David asks for God’s help in the face of enemies who hoped to trap him, so this complaint is likely against his enemies. Whatever the source, David did the right thing with his complaint; he brought it before the LORD.
i. “My complaint is not as petulant a word as in English, but might be rendered ‘my troubled thoughts’.” (Kidner)
ii. “The outpouring of complaint is not meant to tell Jehovah what He does not know. It is for the complainer’s relief, not for God’s information.” (Maclaren)
iii. I pour out: “Those words teach us that in prayer we should not try to keep anything back from God, but should show him all that is in our hearts, and that in his presence in our closet, with the door shut, but not before men.” (Neale and Littledale, cited in Spurgeon)
b. I declare before Him my trouble: David had the heart later expressed by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:6: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
i. “David had no provisions, no followers, and no place to turn…. David then went to Gath, the Philistine city, but this proved to be both dangerous and unworkable, and David eventually escaped into the wilderness again and hid in the cave of Adullam.” (Boice)
ii. “it is not merely words that you have to utter, you have to lay all your trouble before God. As a child tells its mother its griefs, tell the Lord all your griefs, your complaints, your miseries, your fears. Tell them all out, and great relief will come to your spirit.” (Spurgeon)
B. David’s prayer.
1. (3-4) God’s care for the lonely saint.
When my spirit was overwhelmed within me,
Then You knew my path.
In the way in which I walk
They have secretly set a snare for me.
Look on my right hand and see,
For there is no one who acknowledges me;
Refuge has failed me;
No one cares for my soul.
a. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then You knew my path: Any time David felt overwhelmed, he found confidence in knowing that God knew his journey and his walk. God knows our path and our walk in all of its good and all of its bad.
i. Overwhelmed: “David was a hero, and yet his spirit sank: he could smite a giant down, but he could not keep himself up. He did not know his own path, nor feel able to bear his own burden.” (Spurgeon)
ii. You knew my path: “Then it is an infinite solace to look up into the face of the Father, and say: Before I was born, or took the first steps on this path, or essayed to meet its manifold vicissitudes, Thou knewest it; and Thou must have known that it was not too hard, and that there were resources of strength in Thyself sufficient for my day, which the emergency would bring out in a clearer manifestation.” (Meyer)
b. They have secretly set a snare for me: David didn’t know where the snares were, but he knew they were out there. David also knew that as He depended upon Him, God could preserve him from secret snares.
i. “The use of concealed traps is disgraceful to our enemies, but they care little to what tricks they resort for their evil purposes. Wicked men must find some exercise for their malice, and therefore when they dare not openly assail they will privately ensnare.” (Spurgeon)
c. There is no one who acknowledges me…no one cares for my soul: David felt alone and forsaken, yet this very cry to God declares that David knew that even if he were forsaken by men, God had not forsaken him. Even if every other refuge has failed, David found in God an ear for the voice of his cry.
i. Look on my right hand and see: “The ‘right hand’ is the place for a champion or helper, but this lonely sufferer’s is unguarded, and there is none who knows him, in the sense of recognising him as one to be helped.” (Maclaren)
ii. “The ‘right’ signifies the place where one’s witness or legal council stood (cf. Psalms 16:8; 109:31; 110:5; 121:5). He has no one to defend him against the adversaries.” (VanGemeren)
iii. “We have companions in joy; sorrow we have to face by ourselves. Unless we have Jesus with us in the darkness, we have no one.” (Maclaren)
iv. “In the event, it seems that God answered abundantly, soon sending David’s ‘brothers and all his father’s house’ to join him in his cave, and then by degrees a company that would become the nucleus of his kingdom (1 Sam. 22:1f.). This low ebb in his fortunes proved in fact to be a turning point.” (Kidner)
v. No one cares for my soul: “When danger besetteth us around, and fear is on every side, let us follow the example of David, and that of a greater than David, who, when Jews and Gentiles conspired against him, and he was left all alone, in the garden, and on the cross, gave himself unto prayer.” (Horne)
2. (5) David’s trust in God alone.
I cried out to You, O LORD:
I said, “You are my refuge,
My portion in the land of the living.
a. You are my refuge: Among men, David had no refuge (verse 4). Yet as he cried out to God, David could confidently proclaim that God was indeed his refuge. The cities of refuge were, in the Old Testament times, for the protection of an Israelite in special circumstances; and David found his place of refuge not in a place or in a particular circumstance, but in the LORD Himself.
i. I said: “If David had not cried he would not have said; and if the Lord had not been his refuge he would never have been his portion. The lower step is as needful as the higher.” (Spurgeon)
b. My portion in the land of the living: Many times in David’s seasons as a fugitive, he had reason to believe that all his inheritance in this world was gone. In such times he had the confidence that God Himself was his portion, his inheritance. David also knew that he would benefit from this portion in the land of the living, in the here and now, not only in the age to come.
i. My portion: “To say ‘my portion’ goes as far beyond this as love goes beyond fear. [The Good News Bible] brings out the great force of this word by the phrase ‘you are all I want’.” (Kidner)
3. (6-7) David’s prayer for deliverance.
Attend to my cry,
For I am brought very low;
Deliver me from my persecutors,
For they are stronger than I.
Bring my soul out of prison,
That I may praise Your name;
The righteous shall surround me,
For You shall deal bountifully with me.”
a. Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low: David once again brought his cry to the LORD, honestly confessing his low circumstances. David didn’t feel a need to pretend that everything was fine or that he wasn’t weak; he could come to God for help even when brought very low by persecutors who were stronger than him.
i. “The song ends with an earnest cry for deliverance, and an affirmation of confidence that the cry will be heard and answered.” (Morgan)
b. They are stronger than I: This means that David well understood his present weakness. The one who killed Goliath felt himself to be very weak – and actually, that was a good place for David to be. God’s strength would soon flood his life.
i. “You always hear about Jacob’s wrestling. Well, I dare say he did; but it was not Jacob who was the principal wrestler…. The wrestling was to take all his strength out of him; and when his strength was gone, then God called him a prince. Now, David was to be king over all Israel. What was the way to Jerusalem for David? What was the way to the throne? Well, it was round by the cave of Adullam.” (Spurgeon)
c. Bring my soul out of prison: This was likely a figure of speech, yet David felt constrained and bound in his soul. He longed to be free from this sense, so that he could praise God’s name.
i. “‘My soul’ is frequently a longer way of saying ‘me’.” (Kidner)
ii. “‘Prison’ may denote actual imprisonment but may also be a metaphor for his desperate condition in the light of the allusions to adversity and isolation (cf. Psalm 107:10; Isaiah 42:7).” (VanGemeren)
d. That I may praise Your name: Though his cry came from a great sense of humility and weakness, David ended this psalm with great confidence.
· David began the song with complaint (verse 2); he closes confident of praise to come.
· David began the song with a great sense of isolation (verse 4); he closes with confidence in coming companionship and support from the righteous.
· David began with the sense of being low and weak (verse 6); he closes confident in God’s future goodness, knowing that God would deal bountifully with him.
i. “This prayer of David was heard and answered; he was delivered from his persecutors, enlarged from his distress, exalted to the throne, and joined by all the tribes of Israel.” (Horne)
ii. “In spite of all the opposition of men he realized that his God would deal bountifully with him, therefore instead of his foes, he would find himself surrounded by the righteous.” (Morgan)
iii. The righteous shall surround me: “[In] Hebrew, shall crown me; that is, shall encircle me, as wondering at thy goodness in my deliverance; or they shall set the crown on mine head.” (Trapp)
iv. “Perhaps when he wrote the song he already began to realize that the crowd of men in debt, in danger, and discontented, who were coming to him, would presently bring him into his kingdom.” (Morgan)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – email@example.com