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Deeper Commentary

Psa 143:1

A Psalm by David-
We have here another example of the pairing of Psalms, for Ps. 143 has many points of contact with David's prayer when hemmed in within the cave of Ps. 142.

Hear my prayer, Yahweh. Listen to my petitions. In Your faithfulness and righteousness, relieve me-
David trapped within the cave apparently faced certain death. But he pleads with God to be faithful- to His prophetic word that David would be king and Saul would be deposed. In this sense, faith came by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17).

Psa 143:2

Don’t enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous-
facing apparent death, and in great panic and psychological crisis (see on :7), David assumed that the prophetic word that he would live to become king wasn't going to be fulfilled because he had sinned. The Lord Jesus passed through a similar crisis on the cross when He felt forsaken by God. And so David asks for every grace to be shown to him. Closer, more rational analysis however reveals a weakness in his argument; he seems to be saying that because all men sin, and none are justified, therefore God shouldn't judge David for his sins. That doesn't follow, but we can put this down to his understandable panic in extremity.

Psa 143:3

For the enemy pursues my soul; he has struck my life down to the ground-
"Struck" is s.w. "broken". This is clearly relevant to the actions of the Babylonians (s.w. Lam. 3:34). But it was true also of David's enemies within Israel, especially Saul, who is likely in view here, having chased him into the cave where he now expected to be struck down at any moment. The truth is that the exiles were broken because they had broken each other in pieces (Is. 3:15 s.w.). Yet that brokenness was intended to bring forth the humility which would enable them to repent and be restored (s.w. Is. 57:15 "contrite"). And it was the suffering servant as representative of Israel who was broken, as their representative (s.w. Is. 53:5,10).

He has made me live in dark places, as those who have been long dead-
David in the dark cave, which he understood as a kind of tomb hewn in the rock, felt as if he were already dead, so apparently certain was it that Saul would find and slay him.

Psa 143:4

Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me. My heart within me is desolate-
Here we have an exact repetition of David's prayer in the cave recorded in Ps. 142:3. I suggested on :1 that Ps. 143 is paired with Ps. 142 and refers to the same time. His spirit failed, he was mentally broken down, 'I gush out my babbling', he remembered (Ps. 142:2). He was so frightened and emotionally broken down that his spirit or mind was overwhelmed (Ps. 142:3). The relevance to the exiles is that the land was left "desolate" whilst they were in exile (s.w. Lev. 26:34; 2 Chron. 36:21 etc.), as was the temple (2 Chron. 7:21) and the heart of the exiles themselves, just like David at this time (Jer. 4:9 s.w.). But God could save them from such extremity, if they had David's faith, and restore them according to His prophetic word and intention with them. Jeremiah uses the same word translated "overwhelmed" to describe what happened to God's people under the hand of the Babylonians (Lam. 2:11,12,19).

Psa 143:5

I remember the days of old, I meditate on all Your doings, I contemplate the work of Your hands-
David recalls in his own life "of old", in his youth and childhood, how God had saved him by grace; and asks for this to be continued. We should never therefore disregard God's hand at work in our childhood and youth. But as in Ps. 77:12, the Divine work and doings being considered are also His historical grace to His people. For all His work for Israel was by grace, seeing that for the most part they didn't strongly believe in Him and were unfaithful to His covenant; and yet He had still worked for them so mightily, towards their salvation.

Psa 143:6

I spread forth my hands to You. My soul thirsts for You, like a parched land. Selah-
In the cave that night, David would have likely been unable to drink. He was thirsty, dry as the parched land outside the cave. And in the silence of the cave that night, he spread forth his hands to God.

And again these things look forward to the experience of the Lord Jesus. The thirsty land surrounding Him on the cross represented spiritually barren Israel (Is. 53:1; Ps. 42:1-3); but the Lord Jesus so took His people upon Him, into His very soul, that His soul became a thirsty land (Ps. 143:6); He felt as spiritually barren as they were, so close was His representation of us, so close was He to sinful man, so fully did He enter into the feelings of the sinner. In the same way as Christ really did feel forsaken as Israel were because of their sins, so He suffered thirst, both literally and spiritually, which was a punishment for Israel's sins.

Psa 143:7

Hurry to answer me, Yahweh. My spirit fails-
David in the cave that night (see on :1) needed immediate answers and deliverance. His spirit failed, he was mentally broken down, 'I gush out my babbling', he remembered (Ps. 142:2). He was so frightened and emotionally broken down that his spirit or mind was overwhelmed (Ps. 142:3).

Don’t hide Your face from me-
Recognizing the existence of the new and old men within him, Paul can speak in Rom. 7 as if he is two different people; “I myself serve the law of God”, but “my flesh” serves sin. Likewise David asked God not to hide his face from him, David personally, (Ps. 27:9; 69:17; 102:2; 143:7), but to hide His face from David’s sins (Ps. 51:9). And one wonders whether the way the records of the Lord’s temptations are written implies some similar recognition by the Spirit of the two ‘men’ within the Lord.

So that I don’t become like those who go down into the pit-
There in the cave it would have seemed as if David was alive in the pit or tomb of the grave. He was earnestly begging for his life to be saved. 

Psa 143:8

Cause me to hear Your grace in the morning, for I trust in You. Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to You-
This has obvious reference to David lying silent and unable to move that night in the cave (see on :1). He begged for deliverance in the morning, by grace alone. For he had no human way out. And now, as he writes up his experience in this Psalm, he makes this his prayer every night, as it had been that desperate night in the cave.

David expected to be caused to hear God's lovingkindness every morning, and to be taught the way he should take- all because he would every morning 'lift up his soul unto God'. All this was the pattern of daily life for the Lord Himself, who was noted for rising up early and praying (Mk. 1:35). Is. 50:4 prophesies of the Lord Jesus that morning by morning, God awoke His ear "to learn as a disciple". That last phrase is surely to signal the intended similarities between the Lord's path of growth, and that of all disciples.

Just as is true today, and as is often mentioned in Ps. 119, God is willing to operate directly on the hearts of men in a way over and above His written word. David realized this, and asked to be taught and shown God's ways (Ps. 25:4; 143:8). "Cause" is the usual word for 'to know'. Knowledge in its ultimate, spiritual sense is not attained simply by reading or hearing the text of the Bible; not that I am at all decrying that. But there is a higher, Divine hand at work in making us know Divine knowledge. Moses had prayed the same words in Ex. 33:13: "Show me [make me to know] Your way, that I may know [s.w. "show"] You [and] find grace in Your sight". The gift of knowledge, in the Hebraic sense of relationship, is related to God's grace. That knowledge which is in view is not the same as technical, theological knowledge. Moses' prayer was answered; the same words are used in saying that God "made known His ways to Moses" (Ps. 103:7). 

Psa 143:9

Deliver me, Yahweh, from my enemies. I flee to You to hide me-
David had fled into the cave for deliverance and hiding, but it had turned out to be his snare and prison (see on :1). And so he desperately flees, in his mind, to Yahweh as his true hiding place, begging to be hidden from Saul, sleeping only a short distance away from him.

David responded to their seeking of him by seeking God more. He uses the language of the hunt and chase to describe how he was drawing closer to God: "My soul followeth hard after thee" (Ps. 63:8; Ps. 63 is a wilderness psalm, see title). “Let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul... let all those that seek thee rejoice" (Ps. 40:14,16). In this sense, David felt he wasn't fleeing from  his enemies as much as fleeing to God: "Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies (from whom he was running): I flee unto thee to hide me" (Ps. 143:9 AV). Both David and Jesus had a real sense of direction, they could see that their mental, emotional and physical sufferings were leading them towards an altogether higher relationship with the Father. They took those sufferings as an almost welcome push towards the Father. They had a sure sense of spiritual direction in all their afflictions; this accounts for the human loneliness which they both felt.

Psa 143:10

Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God-
David's begging for deliverance was because he vowed to use his subsequent life to do God's will, and he asks God to teach him this.

Your Spirit is good; lead me in the land of uprightness-
David asked: “Let thy good spirit / Angel lead me in the plain country” (Ps. 143:10 RVmg.)- as if he realized that there were Angels / spirits of evil, as well as of good. Thus we too pray not to be lead into temptation- but rather, lead in the way of life. Angels do lead us in life, but they can lead us in either the downward or the upward spiral. In the immediate context, David trapped in the cave (see on :1) longed to be outside of it, in the open country again. 

Psa 143:11

Revive me, Yahweh, for Your name’s sake. In Your righteousness, bring my soul out of trouble-
David in the cave had no way of being 'brought out' (see on :1), apart from by God's direct intervention. He asks for this not because of his own righteousness, but throws himself upon God's grace.

Psa 143:12

In Your loving kindness, cut off my enemies, and destroy all those who afflict my soul, for I am Your servant-
We are bidden praise God for smiting David's enemies, and also for smiting the firstborn babies of Egypt, because this is a sign of His eternal mercy (Ps. 138:10 cp. 143:12). This is proof enough that His view of mercy and ours are quite different. If as suggested on :1 this Psalm is David's reflections within the cave, then his request for God to cut off his enemies is all the more appropriate. For he had the chance to cut off Saul's life and refused to, exactly because of his faith in this Divine promise- that God and not man would see to this.

David often talks about the perishing [s.w.] of his enemies (Ps. 9:3,6, 41:5; 143:12). But in Ps. 92:9 he speaks of them as God's enemies. He considers his enemies to be God's enemies. That may well have been true, seeing that God did indeed become the enemy of Saul, who was clearly the great enemy of David in his earlier life (1 Sam. 28:16). But we must sound a caveat; because it can be that those within the body of believers whom we consider our enemies are in fact loved by God. We cannot automatically assume in times of inter-personal strife that our enemies are also God's enemies.