Psalm 142 (NIV)
1 I cry aloud to the Lord;
I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
2 I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble.
3 When my spirit grows faint within me,
it is you who watch over my way.
In the path where I walk
people have hidden a snare for me.
4 Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
no one cares for my life.
5 I cry to you, Lord;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
6 Listen to my cry,
for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
for they are too strong for me.
7 Set me free from my prison,
that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
because of your goodness to me.
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One of the features of the Mini Davidic Psalter (Psalms 138–145) is that it revisits many of the key themes of the earlier collections of Davidic psalms. One of the themes we encountered was David fleeing from his enemies and even hiding in caves (see especially Psalms 52–59). Psalm 142 is a prayer of David while hiding from his enemies in a cave. This psalm falls in a category of psalms known as complaint psalms. It is important to remember that “complaint” in the Psalms is not a form of whining or griping. Complaint is giving voice to our circumstances and trustfully transferring them into God’s hands. David is crying out from a cave or pit, as Joseph did before him. As the grand narrative of the Bible continues, we will see Elijah crying out in a cave (1 Kings 19), Jeremiah crying out from a pit (Jer. 38), and Paul crying out from prison (Acts 16). These are not stories of whiners; they are powerful narratives foreshadowing or remembering Jesus himself, who spent his last night in Caiaphas’s pit crying out to God before his crucifixion (Matt. 26) as the “man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isa. 53:3).
The last psalm of David that specifically mentions he was hiding in a cave is Psalm 57. However, there is a major change of tone between Psalm 57 and Psalm 142.
In Psalm 57 David is animated by exuberant praise, even though he is in a cave and surrounded by enemies seeking his life. He describes his enemies as lions and ravenous beasts. They have “spread a net” and “dug a pit” to capture him (v. 6). Yet, David is singing and making music. He calls on the harp and lyre to join him as he awakens the dawn with singing. It is in Psalm 57 that we find some of the most memorable lines of praise in the psalms: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth” (v. 11). In the meditation on Psalm 57, we noted that David was able to enter that wonderful place that we called “history as narrative past.” This is that place where you can sing and rejoice in a victory as if it has already happened, even though you are in the middle of a great trial.
The tone of Psalm 142 is quite different. David pours out his complaint before the Lord (v. 2). His spirit has grown faint. He looks in every direction and only sees his enemies. He even says, “I have no refuge; no one cares for my life” (v. 4). David then cries out to God to rescue him: “Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me” (v. 6). He goes on to compare his cave to a prison, praying, “Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name” (v. 7).
In both psalms enemies surround David (57:4–6 and 142:6). In both psalms he cries out for God’s mercy (57:1 and 142:1). In both psalms he cries out to God to be his refuge (57:1 and 142:5). In other words, the situations are very similar. The difference is that in the one case David is more aware of God’s presence and more confident in God’s promises. In the other, David feels more vulnerable and alone. Yet, in both cases, God has not changed. In both cases, David must trust in the Lord. The source of David’s deliverance has not changed.
All of us encounter difficult periods in our lives. We find ourselves afraid and struggling. The reasons may be very different, but we can all relate to David’s words when he cries out for God to set him free from his prison (v. 7). Many things imprison us, but the truth of God’s Word remains unchanged, whether we feel it or not. Sometimes we can enter that amazing space of sensing and almost tasting the victory that is ours before it even begins to unfold. At other times, we experience what feels like the absence of God and the silence of heaven. However, in both cases, the Lord is still our refuge and our strength. His promises are true. We still cry out to him, knowing that, in the end, God will vindicate the faith of his servants.