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Bible Commentaries

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 143

Verse 1



Psalms 143 is another of the psalms of David. And, as Rawlinson said, "There is no reason to doubt the superscription that ascribes it to him."[1] Rhodes, evidently following current fads among critics, assigned it to post-exilic times, on the basis that, it shows, "Dependence on many other Psalms."[2] Those "other psalms," however, in by far the greater part, are Davidic; and the "fact" here is that David's vocabulary in this psalm closely resembles his other writings. Is this not indeed an evidence of Davidic authorship? "Almost all of the phrases here are found in other Davidic psalms."[3]

Behold the dutiful dictum of critics. "If it resembles his known writings, then someone copied and imitated him; if it does not resemble his known writings, then he could not have written it." If we translate this unreasonable and unprovable rule of current criticism into ordinary language, it simply means, "No matter what the evidence, we deny the ascribed authorship." There can be no wonder that many sincere scholars have lost confidence in the "shibboleths" of current criticism.

This psalm is listed among the so-called Penitentials, because it exhibits on the psalmist's part a deep consciousness of sin and the acceptance of the truth that his terrible sorrows may indeed be the divine punishments which his sins deserved.

"This psalm is certainly composed as coming out of the situation of David who was persecuted by Absalom; and it is distinguished from those of the time of Saul's persecution by the psalmist's deep melancholy, founded upon the penitential sorrow of David's consciousness of his own guilt."[4]

Delitzsch added that, "It is on account of this feature that the church has chosen Psalms 143 as the last of the seven Penitentials."[5]

The psalm is naturally divided into two parts, marked by the "Selah" at the end of Psalms 143:6.

Psalms 143:1-6

"Hear my prayer, O Jehovah; Give ear to my supplications:

In thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness.

And enter not into judgment with thy servant;

For in thy sight no man living is righteous.

For the enemy hath persecuted my soul;

He hath smitten my life down to the ground:

He hath made me to dwell in dark places,

As those that have been long dead.

Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me;

My heart within me is desolate.

I remember the days of old;

I meditate upon all thy doings;

I muse on the work of thy hands.

I spread forth my hands unto thee:

My soul thirsteth after thee, as a weary land.


"In thy faithfulness ... in thy righteousness" (Psalms 143:1). David does not here plead any merit of his own, but based his plea upon the character of God who would surely keep the wonderful promises made to him through Nathan the prophet. God's righteousness would not allow him to nullify those great promises.

"Enter not into judgment with thy servant" (Psalms 143:2). David had touched the subject of abstract "justice" in his mention of God's righteousness, but he did not dare to press that, because of the consciousness of his own guilt. "He therefore deprecates a strictly retributive treatment, knowing that his life and conduct cannot endure the severity of God's judgment,"[6] freely acknowledging that, "No man living is righteous in God's sight," including himself, of course, in that confession.

One may well ask, just what was eating David's heart out here? The answer is found in the Word of God.

"Thus saith Jehovah the God of Israel (to David) ... Thou hast smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and thou hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and thou hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thy house, because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house; and I will give thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor ... I will do this thing before all Israel (2 Samuel 12:7-12)."

Nothing could have any more dramatically reminded David of these words of the Lord spoken to him through Nathan, than did the rebellion of Absalom. Knowing that he himself deserved to die, David nevertheless pleaded for God to spare him, which God, in his mercy assuredly did.

The earnestness of David's prayer here is seen in the fact of its being offered upon a number of grounds, the first of these (Psalms 143:1-2) being simply the grace of a loving and faithful God.

"The enemy hath persecuted ... smitten me down ... made me to dwell in dark places ... (treated me as if I had) been long dead" (Psalms 143:3). This is another one of the grounds upon which David founded his prayer, namely, the evil conduct of Absalom his unscrupulous, reprobate son.

"My spirit is overwhelmed ... my heart ... is desolate" (Psalms 143:4). The grounds of his petition here is the very extremity of his own personal condition. Unless God is ready to destroy him, help must come at once.

"I remember ... I meditate ... I muse" (Psalms 143:5). David remembers the promises God had made to him; he mediates upon the marvelous deliverances God has provided for him in the past; he muses upon the fulfilment of the terrible prophecy of the disaster God would raise up against him, "from his own house." David pleads here that he is disciplined and corrected by God's dealings with him.

"I spread forth my hands unto thee ... my soul thirsteth after thee" (Psalms 143:6). The soul-hunger and thirst for God has reached a climax in the heart of David, the very earnestness and eagerness of which are here pleaded as grounds of his petition.

"I spread forth my hands" (Psalms 143:6). This refers to a well-know gesture often associated with prayer.

Summarizing the various grounds upon which this great prayer is offered, we have: (1) the unmerited grace and faithfulness of God (Psalms 143:1); (2) God's righteousness to keep his promises (Psalms 143:1); (3) the satanic behavior of the enemy (Psalms 143:3); (4) the extreme personal need of the petitioner (Psalms 143:4); (5) the petitioner's trust in the God who has so often delivered him (Psalms 143:5); and (6) the psalmist's hungering and thirsting after righteousness (after God) (Psalms 143:6). It is the very nature of God to "fill" and "satisfy" those who hunger and thirst for Him (Matthew 5:6).

In these principles, one sees the transcending greatness of this remarkable prayer.

Verse 7

"Make haste to answer me, O Jehovah; my spirit faileth:

Hide not thy face from me,

Lest I become like them that go down to the pit.

Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning;

For in thee do I trust:

Cause me to know the ways wherein I should walk;

For I lift up my soul unto thee.

Deliver me, O Jehovah, from mine enemies;

I flee unto thee to hide me.

Teach me to do thy will;

For thou art my God;

Thy Spirit is good;

Lead me in the land of uprightness.

Quicken me, O Jehovah, for thy name's sake:

In thy righteousness bring my soul out of trouble.

And in thy lovingkindness cut off mine enemies,

And destroy all them that afflict my soul;

For I am thy servant."

"Make haste to answer me ... cause me to hear ... in the morning" (Psalms 143:7-8). In this we have the seventh of the multiple grounds upon which the psalmist predicated his petition; and here the point is that unless God shall help him very soon, it will be too late.

The last four verses here are very similar to David's usual imprecations against his enemies.

"Deliver me from mine enemies" (Psalms 143:9) ... "Teach me to do thy will" (Psalms 143:10). There is a tacit admission here that David's strict adherence to God's will is a necessary corollary of God's rescuing him from the terrible mess in which he finds himself during Absalom's rebellion.

"Quicken me, O Jehovah, for thy name's sake; in thy righteousness bring my soul out of trouble" (Psalms 143:11). McCaw noted that most of us would, "Be happy to pray this prayer (Psalms 143:11), but that we might shy away from praying the next verse (Psalms 143:12)."[7]

"Cut off mine enemies ... destroy all them that afflict my soul" (Psalms 143:12). Yes, there is a sophisticated type of interpreter who never fails to depreciate such a prayer as this; but, again from McCaw, "There are circumstances," such as that in the rebellion of Absalom, "Where there can be no deliverance without destruction, and to pray for one is also to pray for the other."[8]

Copyright Statement
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 143". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.