George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 142

1. Structure

It is time wasted to attempt to break down this psalm into paragraphs, or to try to show development of ideas. These seven short verses are as homogeneous as any of the sections of Psalm 119. Throughout, the psalmist, helpless in a sea of trouble and misery, cries to his God for aid. Since nearly all the psalms are prayers, the title here — a Prayer when he was in the cave — suggests a special importunity in time of great need (cp. Psa. 17).

2. A psalm of David

The title takes the reader to either 1 Samuel 22:1 or to 1 Samuel 24:3. Of these, the former seems much more likely. And the reference must be to his very earliest days in Adullam, for the pronouns concentrate on David’s own desperate need. There is no hint of comrades sharing his privations; he is a lonely desperate man. This means that the phrases mostly look back to David’s very recent escape from the court of Achish, king of Gath (see v. 3: “a snare”). All the time that he was there, it was “touch and go” whether he would come through. Psalm 34 (see notes there) and 1 Samuel 21:10-15 provide the real background to the present psalm.

Complaint sounds petulant and whining to modern ears. Better would be “grief”, “lament”, “anxiety”, or “troubled thoughts”.
When my spirit was overwhelmed within me. Playing the madman before the men of Achish, and simultaneously praying to God for deliverance out of the plight he had made for himself, must have torn David’s soul in two.

Then thou knewest my path. The angel of the Lord encamped beside him (Psa. 34:6,7) in this desperate strait, and David was made aware of this.
Refuge failed me. At first when he fled Gath, David was always on the move; to stay in one place too long meant disaster.
Thou art my refuge. An appropriate allusion to the cave of refuge, where at last he was able to relax from the threat of danger. But of course no physical place could ever, truly, be David’s refuge!

And my portion in the land of the living. The term always implies one’s highest good or prized possession (s.w. Psa. 16:5; 73:26; Lam. 3:24).
Deliver me from my persecutors (pursuers: NEB): (1) Saul, determined to be rid of a rival better than himself; and (2) the men of Achish, who had kept him under constant scrutiny.
Bring my soul out of prison (cp. Isa. 42:6,7). An allusion not to the cave, but to the constraints in Gath from which it had seemed impossible to escape.

For thou shalt deal bountifully with me. Here is the real David, in time of loneliness and extreme hardship, yet confident that God would at last bring him through. His original anointing by Samuel (1 Sam. 16:12) was the foundation for this firm faith.

3. Hezekiah?

The details in Par. 2 spring to life when it is considered that the David in the psalm title may be “David”, the one who sits on David’s throne! There is also the repetition of phrases in v. 1 which is so characteristic of Hezekiah’s Songs of Degrees.

I cried unto the Lord (cp. v. 5). The sustained lament and importunity of Isa. 38:9-14.
In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me. This could well refer to the deceit and faithlessness of Sennacherib agreeing to be “bought off”, and yet afterward continuing to pursue his campaign with relentless vigor. “The treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously” (Isa. 21:2; 24:16; 33:1).
I looked on my right hand... where one would expect to find a helper or defender (cp. Psa. 16:8; 109:31; 110:5; 121:5)... and beheld, but there was no man that would know me. The king’s isolation because of his leprosy?
Deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I. The inexorable Assyrian attack.
Bring my soul out of prison. No matter that he was king, his leprosy robbed him of all freedom of movement. And the Assyrian siege had turned the capital city into a prison.

That I may praise thy name. Here was the great enthusiasm of Hezekiah’s life — the praise of God. And it was hindered by his sickness; he could no longer go into the temple (cp. Isa. 38:22).

For thou shalt deal bountifully with me. And now the king can look back on all his previous wretchedness, and see that his prayer has been fully answered.

4. Messiah

I cried unto the Lord; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication. The repetition here anticipates the repeated plea in Gethsemane.
I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble. See Isa. 49:1-6 from a Messianic viewpoint.
Thou knewest my path. With this, compare the remarkable sequence in the gospels, of the Son’s steadfast intention to go up to Jerusalem at the appointed time: Mark 10:32; Luke 9:51; 13:22; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11,37; and the impressive prototype of Abraham and Isaac:

“And they went both of them [father and son! Father and Son!] together” (Gen. 22:6,8).

In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me. Once again, Psa. 140, Par. 4.
No man cared for my soul. “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” (Matt. 26:40/Mark 14:37). Compare also Psa. 69:20 and 88:8.
I am brought very low. “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matt. 26:38/Mark 14:34). “And his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Bring my soul out of prison. The Resurrection answered this prayer.

The righteous shall compass me about. The s.w. for “compass” is used in a hostile sense in Psa. 22:12: “Strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round”. Jesus was first encircled by a blood-thirsty rabble seeking his life. But later he will be encircled by an adoring throng of redeemed and glorified ones.

The Hebrew text has a double-meaning word here; hence, the RV mg. is equally possible: “The righteous shall crown themselves because of me.” So the redeemed will be a “crown” to Jesus (cp. 1 Thes. 2:19,20), and they in turn will be “crowned” by him (Rev. 3:21; 5:9,10)!
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