Run for your life — Psalm 142

Psalms of David

In this Psalm, David prays to God twice, with a different result each time.

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer.

142 With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
    with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him;
    I tell my trouble before him.
When my spirit faints within me,
    you know my way!
In the path where I walk
    they have hidden a trap for me.
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.

I cry to you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
    my portion in the land of the living.”
Attend to my cry,
    for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors,
    for they are too strong for me!
Bring me out of prison,
    that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me,
    for you will deal bountifully with me.

Psalm 142 ESVUK

I often look at psalms looking for the form of writing, and you could be forgiven for thinking that I am obsessed with form. I am not, it’s just that I believe in treating the different parts of the Bible in different ways, it’s not all supposed to be logical and literal.

I treat law as law, history as history, prophesy as prophesy, poetry as poetry etc. The Psalms are the lyrics to songs and so. I believe should be treated as such, and it does not take much searching to find the structure of the poetry, it falls into two sections, each starting with a call to God. I have separated the text above into its two sections.

But there’s something else here, this is not just a prayer. The introduction says this is a Maskil of David. A maskil is a form of teaching similar to wisdom literature such as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament. A Jewish source I have looked up says that a maskil is, ‘A psalm intended to enlighten and impart knowledge.’ A psalm is also speaking to God and therefore a prayer. A poem, praying to God and teaching the people, what a wide scope for such a short prayer.

The context from the title. “When [David] was in the cave,” come at a time when King Saul, jealous of David’s success in battle, and hearing that David was annoited by Samuel as the next king of Israel wants to kill David and David hides in a cave with a few of his men who remain loyal.

The psalm has two sections duvider into three, it is effectivelt a two verse song with a longer introduction to the irst verse.

Verses 1 & 2 and also verse 5
David cries to the Lord. Verse 2 says, ‘I pour out my complaint before him;’ Verse 5 says, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’

Verse 3 and also verse 6
How David is affected: Verse 3 says, ‘My spirit faints within me.’ Verse 6 says, ‘I am brought very low,’

Verse 4 and also verse 7
The final lines are the opposite of each other. Verse 4 says, ‘There is none who takes notice of me;’ Verse 7 says, ‘The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.’

The difference between the two parts is staggering. In the first prayer, David focuses on himself and he can see no way out of his trouble. In the second David’s focus is changed to being on God, the conclusion of each part is different when David focusses on his troubles there is no way out; when David puts his focus on God he can see a way out, The outcome does not depend on King Saul but on God.

The psalms introduction is about a time whish is spoken about in 1 Samuel 24, Saul, needing to uncover his feet, a euphamism for needing to either urinate or defecate and enters the cave David is in to, as the Living Bible puts it, translating on euphamism with another, to use the bathroom, Instead of Killing Saul, David cuts off the corner of Saul’s robe, then risking his own life reveals himself using the robe fragment to show he means Saul no harm. Saul repents and stops persuing David. For now at least.

The introduction also says this is a Maskil, a type of psalm which is for teaching the people. So what does it teach? It teaches that when we are in times of trouble God can be relied on. If we praise God for who he is then we free ourselves from ourselves, it does not even matter if we are depressed. David had a good reason for being depressed, he is not being paranoid, someone is really after him. If we rely on and praise God then we are giving God the permission to work through our depression and paranoia.

Christians also have a promise of Jesus to fall back on. We are not freed from troubles when we follow Jesus, in fact, he said, ‘ In the world you will have tribulation.’ That is hardly good news, but it is hardly the whole of the quote, the next bit is, ‘But take heart;’ other translations have be of good cheer instead of take heart. Why should we do that? ‘When you have trouble, cheer up,’ does not sound like sound advice. The reason is in the last part of the saying. Here it is complete: ‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33) If you read from verse 25 you can get further context.

David could change his situation by relying on God. God has always been the one who is in control. As Christians we have a bonus which gives us added confidence to add to this, the world that brings us trouble has been overcome by Jesus.


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