Psalm 143 – Hope for the Persecuted Soul
The title of this psalm is simply A Psalm of David. It is another cry to God from a time of crisis and affliction because of David’s many enemies. It is numbered among the seven Penitential Psalms – songs of confession and humility before God. Psalm 143 does not seem to belong to this group as much as the others do (Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 130), but Psalm 143:2 is a strong and clear statement about the unrighteousness of mankind.
It was a custom in the early church to sing these psalms on Ash Wednesday, the Wednesday six weeks before Easter.
A. Pleading for God’s help in a time of crisis.
1. (1-2) Pleading for God to hear.
Hear my prayer, O LORD,
Give ear to my supplications!
In Your faithfulness answer me,
And in Your righteousness.
Do not enter into judgment with Your servant,
For in Your sight no one living is righteous.
a. Hear my prayer, O LORD: This psalm describes David in another crisis. Because his life was filled with so much activity and danger, it is impossible to link this psalm to any one particular point of crisis. It could be from the time before David was recognized as king, living as a fugitive from King Saul, or it could be from David’s time as king, particularly when his son Absalom led a rebellion against him.
i. In this crisis, David knew that he must cry out to God and that God must hear him, or he would be lost. For David, prayer was not merely a self-improvement exercise that was good for him whether God heard him or not; prayer was a real plea made to a real God who could be appealed unto to hear, to answer, and to help.
b. Give ear to my supplications: This is the same idea as hear my prayer in the previous line. David used the familiar Hebrew poetic form of parallelism, repeating the same idea in different words for the purpose of emphasis.
c. In Your faithfulness answer me, and in Your righteousness: David appealed to the faithfulness and righteousness of God in his request. He asked God to act consistently with those attributes and to answer David.
i. David knew something of the character and nature of God, and this shaped his prayer life. He could never ask God to be unfaithful or unrighteous. Yet he could ask God to act according to His character, and David did boldly make his request on that basis.
ii. In Your righteousness: “Even the sterner attributes of God are upon the side of the man who humbly trusts, and turns his trust into prayer.” (Spurgeon)
d. Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no one living is righteous: David understood that if God were to deal with him only on the basis of His righteousness, it could mean judgment and ruin for David. So he asked God to deal with him on the basis of mercy (do not enter into judgment) and understood that he appealed to God because the LORD is righteous, not because David was righteous.
i. We may consider David’s thoughts as such: “LORD, I know that You are righteous and I am not. Yet I come to You as Your servant, asking You to act on my behalf because of Your mercy and Your righteousness, not on my supposed righteousness.”
ii. In saying in Your sight no one living is righteous, David seemed to anticipate the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:10 (quoting Isaiah), There is none righteous, no not one; and Romans 3:23, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. “Luther called this psalm one of the ‘Pauline Psalms’ (see also Psalm 32; Psalm 51; Psalm 130).” (VanGemeren)
iii. When David said this, he wasn’t thinking of others, as in “LORD, they – the whole world – are unrighteous.” Instead he thought about himself, as in “LORD, no one living is righteous, and I am certainly numbered among them.”
iv. “How contrary is this spirit to the confession of innocence in several psalms (Psalm 7:3-5)! Both expressions are valid, depending on the context in which one finds himself. The confession of innocence is appropriate when one is insulted and persecuted for righteousness’s sake, and the confession of guilt is proper when confronted with one’s own frailties.” (VanGemeren)
v. “His peril has forced home the penitent conviction of his sin, and therefore he must first have matters set right between him and God by Divine forgiveness.” (Maclaren)
2. (3-4) The nature of the crisis.
For the enemy has persecuted my soul;
He has crushed my life to the ground;
He has made me dwell in darkness,
Like those who have long been dead.
Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me;
My heart within me is distressed.
a. For the enemy has persecuted my soul: In his wide and amazing life, David knew suffering of many kinds. Here he spoke of the persecution and suffering of his soul. Perhaps there was also a physical or material aspect to his misery, but that is not in view. David ached and cried out to God out of soul-misery.
b. He has crushed my life to the ground: David went on to describe his sense of soul-misery.
· His life felt crushed…to the ground.
· He felt that he lived in darkness as would be true of those long…dead.
· He felt his spirit to be overwhelmed within himself.
· He felt his heart to be distressed.
i. Collectively, this is a powerful picture of the deep misery of a soul. Worse for David, he felt this was pressed upon him by his enemy. This wasn’t because David was of a melancholy or depressive nature; such misery is of its own character. This was something brought upon David by his adversary.
ii. This makes us think of the times when others caused great misery for David, misery that surely extended to the depths of his soul. For many years he lived as a fugitive from King Saul, having to forsake all because a wicked man persecuted him without cause. David also experienced deep misery when his son Absalom rebelled and deposed him as king. David knew what it was like to have great soul-misery inflicted upon him by another person.
iii. Dwell in darkness: “Literally, in dark places. This may be understood of David’s taking refuge in caves and dens of the earth.” (Clarke)
c. Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is distressed: David spoke long before the greater Son of David, but these words could also be in the mouth of Jesus, especially in His Gethsemane agony. In Gethsemane, before His betrayal and crucifixion, Jesus said: My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death (Matthew 26:38).
i. “Such words our Lord Jesus might have used: in this the Head is like the members, and the members are as the Head.” (Spurgeon)
3. (5-6) The workings of the soul.
I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all Your works;
I muse on the work of Your hands.
I spread out my hands to You;
My soul longs for You like a thirsty land. Selah
a. I remember the days of old: In this dark season of his soul, David considered the days of old when things were not so bad. He probably thought of early days of innocence and freshness in his life and his life with God.
i. There were probably mixed emotions within David as he remembered the days of old. If he thought of the joy, the simplicity, and the goodness of how God met him and blessed him as an anonymous (even somewhat despised) shepherd boy, it would bring a warm smile to his face. Yet it would also cause him some pain to consider how far away all that seemed in his present misery of soul.
ii. There are times when it is good for us to remember the days of old. We can remember the sweet and good times of our early life with God, and it blesses us. We can also remember the days of old before our own time, thinking of the great things God has done among His people in days past. Even if remembering the days of old fills us with a measure of sadness to think of how distant those better days may seem, we can use those memories to restore our hope.
iii. “When we see nothing new which can cheer us, let us think upon old things. We once had merry days, days of deliverance, and joy and thanksgiving; why not again?” (Spurgeon)
b. I meditate on all Your works; I muse on the work of Your hands: David’s consideration of the days of old was not only a nostalgic longing for the past. It was a remembrance of God’s great works. David didn’t remember his past as much as he remembered the LORD’s past works.
i. For David, what made the past worth remembering was the work of the LORD. He thought carefully about what God had done; meditate and muse are words that speak of deep thought.
c. I spread out my hands to You: Thinking deeply about what God did with His hands made David respond with his hands, spreading them out before God in prayer and praise. David praised God for what He had done in the days of old, and he prayed that God might draw close to him now.
i. This posture of prayer and praise was genuine hope for David in the midst of his misery of soul. “‘I stretch forth my hands unto thee,’ as if I were in hope thou wouldst take me by the hand and draw me to thee.” (Baker, cited in Spurgeon)
d. My soul longs for You like a thirsty land: Thankfully, the ache in David’s soul did not drive him away from God. It drove David to God in prayer, praise, and deep longing. His persecuted soul (Psalm 143:3) sought after God with the intensity of thirst.
i. “While we recite this verse, let us not be unmindful of Him whose hands were often stretched forth in prayer for his people, and whose soul thirsted after our salvation, even then, when he felt extremity of bodily thirst on the cross.” (Horne)
B. The plea presented again
1. (7) The need for a quick answer.
Answer me speedily, O LORD;
My spirit fails!
Do not hide Your face from me,
Lest I be like those who go down into the pit.
a. Answer me speedily: David felt that his failing spirit could not last long without God’s answer and intervention. Many a saint has felt as David did, feeling an urgency to hear God’s answer.
i. Experience had taught David that God always did things at just the right time, but the present crisis made him cry out, “Answer me speedily, O LORD.”
b. Do not hide Your face from me: David knew what it was like to enjoy the sense of God’s favor and blessing. To feel that God might hide His face drove David into despair, so he pleaded to see the light of God’s countenance.
i. Much later, the Apostle Paul wrote: If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). When we live with the belief that God is for us, we are confident in the face of any adversary. Yet if we sense that God may hide His face from us, we feel weak before any adversary.
ii. Sadly, David’s words do not connect with the daily experience of many who think of themselves as followers of God. The spiritually insensitive man cares little about God’s favor and blessing. He lives only occasionally aware of a break in communion with God. David was not such a man.
c. Lest I be like those who go down into the pit: David considered this to be the worst imaginable fate: to leave the land of the living and go to the pit of the grave. He felt that he could not go on without a continued sense of the favor and blessing of God.
2. (8) The need for loving guidance.
Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For in You do I trust;
Cause me to know the way in which I should walk,
For I lift up my soul to You.
a. Cause me to hear: David needed to hear a good word from God, and asked that he would be caused to hear it. Perhaps David wondered if God was speaking and he somehow failed to hear, so he prayed, “Cause me to hear.” This is a good prayer for all to pray.
i. “He who made the ear will cause us to hear, he who is love itself will have the kindness to bring his lovingkindness before our minds.” (Spurgeon)
b. Your lovingkindness in the morning: David needed to hear something of God’s great mercy, His lovingkindness – His hesed. He needed to hear this early in the day, in the morning, so we would have assurance and know how to walk during the day.
i. The ancient Hebrew word here translated lovingkindness is hesed. For centuries it was translated with words like mercy, kindness, and love. In 1927, a scholar named Nelson Glueck (among others) argued that the real idea behind hesed was “covenant loyalty” and not so much love or mercy. However, many disagreed and there is no good reason for changing the long-held understanding of hesed and taking it as a word that mainly emphasizes covenant loyalty (see R. Laird Harris on hesed in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament).
ii. Spurgeon on lovingkindness (hesed): “Lovingkindness is one of the sweetest words in our language. Kindness has much in it that is most precious, but lovingkindness is doubly dear; it is the cream of kindness.”
iii. “He is beginning to look ahead and seek direction. The phrase, in the morning, is already a token of this by its admission that the night is not endless.” (Kidner)
c. Cause me to know the way in which I should walk: David confessed that he didn’t know the way, and that he needed God to cause him to know the way. He didn’t only need the love of God – he also needed the guidance of God. Cause me to know the way in which I should walk is a wonderful prayer for all to pray.
d. For in You do I trust…for I lift up my soul to You: David appealed to God on the basis of his trust and surrender to God. It was as if David prayed, “LORD, I am genuinely depending on you. Please don’t let me down; speak to me and guide me.”
i. “If the soul will not rise of itself we must lift it, lift it up unto God.” (Spurgeon)
3. (9) The need for deliverance from wicked men.
Deliver me, O LORD, from my enemies;
In You I take shelter.
a. Deliver me, O LORD, from my enemies: David’s enemies had persecuted his soul (Psalm 143:3). He prayed not only for God’s encouragement, but also for His defense against these enemies.
b. In You I take shelter: This was a beautiful statement of faith. David would not take shelter in sinful pleasures, in the distractions of entertainment, in positive thinking, in self-reliance, in bitterness, or in vengeance. David was determined to take shelter in the LORD.
i. “The blessedness of contrite trust is that it nestles the closer to God, the more it feels its unworthiness. The child hides its face on the mother’s bosom when it has done wrong.” (Maclaren)
4. (10) The need to do God’s good will.
Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God;
Your Spirit is good.
Lead me in the land of uprightness.
a. Teach me to do Your will: David could say, “Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness” and “Cause me to know the way in which I should walk” (Psalm 143:8). Yet he did not say, “Cause me to do Your will.” In all his reliance upon God, he knew that God would not obey for him. Rather, the loving God would teach David to do His will. He would lead David in the land of uprightness.
i. “The psalmist does not say, ‘Lord, help me to talk about thy will,’ though it is a very proper thing to talk about, and a very profitable thing to hear about. But still doing is better than talking.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Spurgeon also described how the believer should do the will of God: thoughtfully, immediately, cheerfully, constantly, universally, spiritually, and intensely.
iii. The next line, Your Spirit is good, connects this teaching work of God with the presence of His Spirit. “Moreover the Lord has a way of teaching us by his own Spirit. The Holy Spirit speaks in secret whispers to those who are able to hear him. It is not every professing Christian that has the visitations of the Spirit of God in personal monitions, but there are saints who hear a voice behind them saying, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it.’ God guides us with his eye as well as by his word.” (Spurgeon)
b. For You are my God: It was appropriate for David to expect God to teach him. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will teach the willing servant to do His will, a demonstration of the goodness of God’s Spirit.
i. We should know what David knew – that Your Spirit is good. We should know it even more than David did, in light of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that is part of the New Covenant. A believer has no reason to fail to yield to the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.
ii. John Trapp noted this from Cyril of Alexandria (A.D. 378-444): “Cyril gathereth from this text, that the good Spirit is God, because none is good but God.”
5. (11-12) The need for revival and rescue.
Revive me, O LORD, for Your name’s sake!
For Your righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble.
In Your mercy cut off my enemies,
And destroy all those who afflict my soul;
For I am Your servant.
a. Revive me, O LORD: David prayed for revival, for a renewal of life and vitality. Yet he prayed this not for his own benefit or reputation, but for Your name’s sake – the sake of the LORD’s name and reputation.
i. A genuine concern for the sake of God’s name is a necessary aspect of true revival – and not for the name or the advancement of any man or woman of God. Many prayers for revival are actually self-interested, praying “Lord, let me be known for a great work of revival.”
b. For Your righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble: David knew that his rescue would bring glory to God, so he could pray for deliverance on that basis. He could ask God to destroy all those who afflict my soul, leaving vengeance to God against those who persecuted his soul.
i. Bring my soul out of trouble: “I can bring it in, but thou only canst bring it out.” (Trapp)
c. In Your mercy cut off my enemies…for I am Your servant: David appealed to God on the basis of His name, His righteousness, and His mercy – yet also on the basis of his relationship with God as His servant. David understood that the servant has obligations to the Master; yet, the Master also has obligations to the servant.
i. “For God is pledged to His servant as surely as His servant is pledged to Him.” (Kidner)
ii. David asked God to deal with his enemies; but before that, he asked God to deal with him. He knew that his own low or uninspired or undirected walk with God was a greater danger than any enemy.
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org