Posts Tagged ‘psalm 142’

See below for the literary structure of this Psalm.

This Psalm is full of sorrow and pain, but also faith. The inscription connects it to David. It says, “A Maskil of David, (perhaps a musical or liturgical term) when he was in the cave. A Prayer.” Although it’s not clear that these inscriptions are original to the text, this one does give us a helpful setting for reading this as a prayer of David in a very difficult situation.


Taking our cue from the heading, “when he was in the cave,” there are two instances where Scripture speaks of David being in a cave – the cave of Adullam and at Engedi. The first is the more likely setting. Let’s look at this.

  • With the help of Jonathan, David now knows for sure that Saul has determined to kill him. So he fled. (1 Samuel 20).
  • He stopped at the village of Nob and got some food and a weapon (Goliath’s sword) from the priest there. He was begging for bread. He didn’t have anything. He was literally running for his life. (1 Samuel 21:1-9).
  • He then went to Philistia; into enemy territory where Saul couldn’t reach him. But because of his reputation as an Israelite warrior, his life was in danger there also. In fact, he went to the city where Goliath was from carrying Goliath’s sword. So he feigned insanity. He started drooling and scratching at the door and then  fled. (1 Samuel 21:10-15).

1 Samuel 22:1 then says, “David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam.”  He’s basically alone. Although the priest at Nob said, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” (1 Samuel 21:2) apparently he had a few young men with him (1 Samuel 21:4-5, maybe four since he asked for five loaves of bread. Also Mark 2:25-26.)  Perhaps these were David’s personal attendants.

Adullam was in the no-man’s land between Israel and Philistia, who were always at war. There are several caves here.

Psalm 142

– begins with David noting his desperate prayers. “1With my voice I cry out to the LORD; with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD. 2I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.”

This is no casual prayer. He is distressed. This comes out in the words used for prayer in v. 1. He is crying out, he is pleading for mercy. This is intense prayer. And this also comes out in the words used for what he is praying about. He is pouring out his “complaint” – his concerns or even grievances. He is telling his “troubles” – his adversity, anguish and affliction.

He is clearly speaking to God. Twice he says, “to the Lord” and twice “before him.”

“3When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!” He is overwhelmed. He’s got nothing left; no strength left within. As he says in v. 6, “I am brought very low.” You can certainly see why this is so as we think of what’s going on in David’s life at this time.

And he’s saying to God, you know what I am going through! Well, even though God knows what’s happening, he lays out all his problems anyway.

“In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me.” “They” are described in v. 6 as persecutors who are too strong for him. As we noted, Saul is trying to find and kill David, and all the resources of the kingdom are being brought to bear on this task.

The phrase “hidden a trap” conjures up hunting language. Saul is hunting him down to kill him. To get a measure of how much danger he was in Saul had all the priests at Nob killed along with their families simply because one of them helped David. (1 Samuel 22:6-23). His life is in serious danger.

“4Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me.” David speaks of looking to the right because this is where a witness for the defense would stand (Psalm 109:31) or one’s protector would be (Psalm 16:8; 110:5). He is saying that no one is standing up for him.

“No refuge remains to me.” He has nowhere to go to find shelter. Saul rejected him and is trying to kill him. And the Philistines didn’t give him a safe haven. All he has is a cave.

“No one cares for my soul.” He is without anyone to support him. Perhaps he even had sent out his servants to tell his family and friends where he was, since they came to him here later (1 Samuel 22:1-4). This was also before those who would become his mighty men gathered to him here (2 Samuel 23:13). So He was truly alone.

His prayers. “5I cry to you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’” Although he is cut off from Israel, and Philistia has rejected him and he is in the no-man’s land of Adullam – God has not rejected him.

  • God is his refuge, his place of shelter; God has taken him in; God has taken him under his care to protect him.
  • And God is his portion. He is like the Levites who were not given a portion of land in Israel, but were supported by God. So David has no place, having been driven out of Israel. But God will provide for him.

“6Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low!” He’s saying, “Listen!!! This is urgent! I can’t hang in there too much longer. I’m at the bottom. You have to answer soon.”

Next, he gets more specific. “Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me!” This refers to Saul and his men. This is the core of his problem.

“7Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name!” Death and Sheol (Hades) are often pictured as a prison. And he was also stuck in the prison of the cave he was in. And his cave, which was dark and underground, would have reminded him of Sheol. It’s like he’s on death’s door.

He promises that if God helps him, he will give thanks to God.

Finally, he ends with an expression of faith. “7The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.” He is confident that God is going to act for him and deliver him. He will no longer be in danger and thus he will no longer be alone.

This was fulfilled in part, fairly soon. His family and others gathered to him at Adullam, including what would become his army (1 Samuel 22:1-2; 2 Samuel 23:13). Later it was completely fulfilled when Saul was defeated. [David talks about this in 2 Samuel 22 in a way that echoes some of the language of this Psalm]

Let’s look at some –

Lessons from this Psalm

1. Tell God about your troubles. Even though David understands that God knows what’s going on in his life (v. 3), he still tells him all about it in prayer.

In a similar way Jesus tells us, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). But tells us this precisely in the midst of teaching us to pray.

So like David, we need to pour out our hearts to God. We need to tell God about our pain and sorrow. We need to let our tears flow before the Lord. We need to unburden ourselves because we can’t carry the weight. Even though he knows, tell God all about your needs.

2. God allows us to go through very difficult trials. God let David go to his breaking point. David said, “my spirit faints within me” (v. 3) and he said, “I am brought very low” (v. 6).

In David’s case, his life was in danger by an army and a king. These were his circumstances. And even though it is unlikely that any of us are running for our lives, God allows us to go through really difficult times, where we feel alone and threatened, where we are in a dark place, with no one standing up for us or caring about us. We too can be brought so low that our spirit faints within. We too can come to our breaking point where we are barely hanging on. God allows this.

3. God can be our refuge and portion. May it never be that we truly have no one to care for us. But if we find ourselves in an extreme situation like this – we learn from this Psalm that God can protect us and provide for us, just as he did with David.

The literary structure of Psalm 142

A. His prayers

1 With my voice/ I cry out/ to the LORD;

with my voice/ I plead for mercy/ to the LORD.

2 I pour out/ my complaint/ before him;

I tell/ my trouble/ before him.

3 When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!

B. His problem

In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. 4 Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul.

A1. His prayers

5 I cry to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” 6 Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me!7 Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name!

B1. The solution

The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.


  • A and A1 both use the word “cry” and the name Yahweh (LORD). Both are about his prayers.
  • B and B1 deal with the problem and then the answer.
  • A contains two sets of three parallels – vs. 1 and 2.
  • A and B are connected by “path”  and “way”
  • B and A1 are connected by “no refuge” and “refuge”

Read Full Post »