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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 143


Psalms 143

The Psalm is completed in the number twelve, and falls into two main parts, each of six verses, divided by Selah—the first (after an introductory prayer in Psalms 143:1-2) containing a representation of the distress and the complaint, the second containing the prayer and the hope. The six is again divided by the three, so that the whole falls into four strophes, each of three verses. To the number of verses corresponds the fourfold Jehovah, which makes up the number seven, when added to the threefold use of the name in the preceding Psalm. So also the number of the preparatory petitions, Psalms 143:1-2. To the number of particular strophes corresponds the threefold mention of the loving-kindness of the Lord, and of his righteousness and truth, which is also thrice noticed. It corresponds to the division into two halves, that the Psalmist twice designates himself, in Psalms 143:2 and Psalms 143:12, as the servant of the Lord. The whole number of verses corresponds to the twelve times utterance of prayer and hope in the second part, in each verse a double one, with the exception of Psalms 143:7, where there are three petitions, and of Psalms 143:9, where there is only one—in each strophe six petitions, corresponding to the number of verses in the two divisions. The representation of the distress in the first division, Psalms 143:3-6, presents ten particulars, in the first strophe three, in the second seven, according to one of the two ordinary divisions of the ten. In like manner the second part presents a tenfold grounding of the prayer and hope, in each strophe a fivefold one, according to, the other of the two ordinary divisions of the ten, 2. 2. 1.—1. 2. 2.

In unison with the superscription, the Psalm bears evidence throughout of David’s spirit and David’s mode of expression. It is almost wholly composed of the sounds of complaint, supplication, and hope, which had already been uttered in the earlier Davidic Psalms (only in such), and had sunk deep into the heart. These clear brooks were drawn from all sides into the channel of this smooth-flowing Psalm, which was designed to provide quickening for the fainting souls of David’s race during future times of oppression. With so much of dependance the Psalm still bears throughout the character of originality, not merely where the dependance ceases, as in Psalms 143:2, which has become of such importance for the church, and to which the Psalm owes its place among those of the penitential class, though, from its predominant tendency, it does not belong to that class, but also in the dependant passages themselves, in the thoughtful and artificial manner of their collection, which could only have proceeded from the person, out of whose breast the utterances originally welled forth. There is nowhere any trace of “a flat compilation;” all is feeling and life. Along with this there is the repose and self-possession of one who does not find himself immediately involved in the distress, but looks down upon it as from a high tower, and prays and intercedes for the afflicted of his seed, as Moses of old did upon the Mount.

That the Psalm must not be viewed apart from those that surround it, is clear already from the connection with Psalms 142, comp. Psalms 143:4 here with Psalms 142:3 there, Psalms 143:8 with Psalms 142:3, and Psalms 143:11 with Psalms 142:7. That David calls himself so expressly at the beginning and the end, the servant of God, establishes a connection with 2 Samuel 7, where, in David’s thanksgiving, this appellation occurs almost in every verse.

Verses 1-6

Ver. 1. Lord, hear my prayer, attend to my supplication, in thy faithfulness hear me, in thy righteousness. Ver. 2. And enter not into judgment with thy servant, for before thee no one living is righteous. Ver. 3. For the enemy persecutes my soul, crushes to the ground my life, makes me to dwell in dark places like one eternally dead. Ver. 4. And wearied is my spirit with me, my heart is confounded to me in my body. Ver. 5. I think of the days of old, I reflect upon all thy doing, meditate upon the work of thy hands. Ver. 6. I stretch forth my hands to thee, my soul is to thee as a faint land. Selah.

In Psalms 143:1 the hearing is rested upon a double foundation, the faithfulness and righteousness of God, corresponding to the double prayer in the first half of the verse. The appeal to the faithfulness presupposes that the Psalmist had received definite promises from God, comp. 2 Samuel 7. Righteousness gives to every one his own; to the righteous—and only such must venture, after Psalms 139, to take into their mouth the words of this Psalm—in spite of their failings, the forgiveness of which is itself the work of divine righteousness (comp. on Psalms 51:15) salvation; to the wicked destruction. In Psalms 36:5-6, righteousness and faithfulness are united together.

Enter not into judgment with thy servant, Psalms 143:2, on account of the human infirmity, which still always cleaves to thy people, along with the righteousness which they also possess as the indispensable condition of salvation. The Psalmist had appealed in Psalms 143:1 to the divine righteousness. The appeal to this has for its foundation a consciousness of personal righteousness, compare on Psalms 17:1. But with the mention of this there is quite naturally introduced also the thought of its great imperfection, and on this account the Psalmist betakes himself to the forbearance and pardoning mercy of the Lord, which can never be withdrawn from his servants, which he must grant them precisely according to his righteousness (comp. on Psalms 19:13), not because they could demand it, but because he would otherwise deny his own nature. The accuser goes into the judgment with the accused Job 9:32, Job 22:4; but here the accuser is, at the same time, judge, and appears as such in the second member. God does go in point of fact into judgment with those who have offended against him, by suspending over them desolating punishments. The expression: with thy servant, contains the grounding of the prayer; with his servants God cannot go into judgment; he chastens them indeed, but he does not give them over to death. No one living, no servant even, who constantly needs the forgiveness of his sins, and must perish, if thou dost not grant it to him, 1 Peter 4:18. The passage before us has left distinct impressions upon other parts of Scripture. There is an entire series of similar expressions resting upon it in the book of Job; for example, Job 9:2, Job 14:3, Job 15:14, then Romans 3:20.

The for in Psalms 143:3 grounds the preceding prayers: not that merely in Psalms 143:1, but the one also in Psalms 143:2. For the request: enter not into judgment, is as to the meaning, q. d., surrender me not on account of my failings to destruction. On the first member comp. Psalms 7:5. The Psalmist must, in spite of his innocence (comp. Psalms 139) suffer what, according to that fundamental passage, could permanently and conclusively rest only upon those who are laden with guilt. The fem. form חיה , in the sig. of life only poetically, occurs in this sig. also in another Psalm, of the time of David, Psalms 78:50. In regard to the dark places in the third member, compare on Psalms 88:6. What is only briefly indicated here, is there enlarged upon in Psalms 143:3-6, a passage in other respects also containing various marks of dependance. This third member is literally borrowed in Lamentations 3:6. As a commentary on the words: dead of eternity, or eternally dead (Clauss: “Who lie in the long-continuing night of the grave and of death, out of which no return can be found to this life,”) those in Psalms 88:5 may serve: “whom thou rememberest no more, and they are cut off from thy hand,” q. d., who have for ever ceased to be the objects of thy providential care. Several: as those who have been long dead; but whether long ago or recently makes no difference. Luther falsely: as the dead in the world.

On the first member of Psalms 143:4 compare Psalms 142:3. שמם , to be prostrated in soul, faint, compare Psalms 40:15.

From the connection the mention of God’s active energy in the bestowal of salvation upon his people during the past, the wonders he wrought for their deliverance, cannot be as an object of hope (several: sperans quod mihi etiam nunc ita sis facturus) as in Psalms 44:1-3, but only a doleful one, as in Psalms 22:3-5. For we find ourselves here in the region of sorrow. In the dependant passage also, Psalms 77:5, the remembrance of the past serves, not to mitigate, but to increase and deepen the pain. On the second and third members, comp. the dependant passage, Psalms 92:5.

The second member of Psalms 143:6 rests upon Psalms 63:1: “My soul thirsts after thee in a dry land, and faints without water.” As a parched land stands related to the rain, so my soul to thee, and to thy salvation. The relation is only indicated in a general way. The more exact description would have been: as faint land thirsts after the rain, so thirsts my soul after thee. Stier: “faint land mixes the image in a lively manner, since properly only נפש עיפה , a faint, languishing soul, could be used.”

Verses 7-12

Ver. 7. Make haste, hear me, Lord, my spirit is exhausted, hide not thy face from me, otherwise I shall be like those that go into hell. Ver. 8. Let me hear in the morning thy loving-kindness, for on thee I trust, make known to me the way, wherein I should go, for to thee I carry my soul. Ver. 9. Deliver me from mine enemies, Lord, to thee I hide myself. Ver. 10. Teach me to do thy will, for thou art my God, let thy spirit, the good, lead me upon a plain land. Ver. 11. For thy name’s sake, Lord, wilt thou quicken me; in thy righteousness wilt thou bring my soul out of trouble. Ver. 12. And in thy loving-kindness wilt thou extirpate mine enemies, and destroy all, who make war against my soul, for I am thy servant. On the words: make haste, hear me, in Psalms 143:7, comp. 102:2, Psalms 69:17. On: for my spirit is exhausted, through the heavy, long-continued suffering, Psalms 39:10: “Through the blow of thy hands I am exhausted;” on the second half, Psalms 102:2, and Psalms 28:1. The prayer in both members is grounded upon this, that matters had now come with the Psalmist to an extremity. Where this is the case with the servants of God, there the divine help cannot be longer withheld. In Psalms 143:8-9 the prayer rests upon the heartfelt confidence which the Psalmist entertained toward God, on the principle, that whoever places his confidence in God, he cannot be abandoned by God. On the expression: let me hear, Psalms 143:8, through a matter-of-fact speech, a proof of loving kindness, comp. Psalms 51:8. On: in the morning, Psalms 59:16. That in the prayer: make known to me the way wherein I should go, the discourse is not of a moral guidance, but that the way is the way of salvation from trouble, appears from Psalms 142:3, and the radical passage, Psalms 25:4. Calvin: “When he seeks that the way should be made patent to him, in which he should walk, the matter is to be referred to his anxieties. For it signifies, that he stood as it were astonished, incapable of lifting a foot, unless by having a way of escape divinely laid open to him; as if he should say: Lord, all the desires of my soul are borne upwards to thee; therefore in a time of so great perplexity do thou administer counsel to me.” The words, “On thee I trust,” and “to thee I carry my soul,” are taken from Psalms 25:1-2. On: deliver my soul from my enemies, in Psalms 143:9, comp. Psalms 59:1, Psalms 142:6. The second member literally: to thee I cover or conceal myself; כסה to cover one’s self, Genesis 38:14, Deuteronomy 22:12, Jonah 3:6. The unusual and strange manner of expression was called forth by the reference had to Psalms 27:5: “for he conceals me in his tabernacle at the time of adversity, he covers me in the secret of his tent,” and Psalms 31:20, “Thou hidest them in a tabernacle from the strife of tongues.” The כסה here is the transposed סכה there. The allusion points to this, that God must conceal those who conceal themselves with him. It is commonly explained: for I discover myself to thee, or confide myself in secret. But the expression: to conceal to any one, for to discover one’s self to him, is very hard, (besides, the parallel: I confide, I carry my soul, in Psalms 143:8, shows, that here also the discourse must be of confidence), and what then could be the meaning of: confide in secret? The matter in hand here was a secret grief, for the distress of the Psalmist lay open to all the world. The correct view was already given by Calvin.

In Psalms 143:10 many expositors find only a prayer for moral strength, others only a prayer for the granting of deliverance. Both views are beset with difficulties. The first member cannot without violence be understood otherwise, than of moral instruction, and the bestowal of strength—comp. Psalms 40:9, nor can we without violence fail to recognize in the “good Spirit,” the Spirit, which teaches the well disposed to do good. But it is at the same time impossible to understand by the leading upon a plain land something else than external preservation and prosperity. The leading is already of itself a standing term for leading upon the path of salvation—comp., for example, Psalms 139:10, Psalms 139:24; and the parallel and fundamental passages in the Psalms of David for the whole manner of speech, leave no shadow of doubt upon the subject—comp. Psalms 143:8, Psalms 27:11, and Psalms 26:12, “My foot stands upon the plain,” where the plain stands opposed to a difficult piece of ground, full of steep rocks and pits. The exposition: pathway of manners, righteousness, is therefore decidedly to be rejected. The difficulties connected with both the expositions may be removed by the following view. David’s proper regard is directed to the obtaining of deliverance, which is the object of all his prayers in the preceding and following verses. But he shows himself throughout deeply penetrated with the conviction, that the foundation of the deliverance is righteousness—that it never can come, where this foundation is wanting, but that it of necessity must come, where this foundation exists. He knew, also, that nothing could be done here by one’s own power—comp., for example, Psalms 19, Psalms 51. Hence he prays here, expanding his views farther, that the Lord would (internally) teach him to do his will, convinced that this first gift must necessarily draw the second in its train, that of salvation; so, he prays, that the good Spirit of God would make him good, and consequently would guide him upon the path of salvation. We must explain: Thy Spirit, good, q. d., which is a good one, or, and indeed the good, as opposed to the evil spirit, to the dominion of which Saul was given up in righteous judgment, and which hurried him onward into sin and perdition —comp. 1 Samuel 16:14-15, 1 Samuel 18:10, and corresponding to the Holy Spirit in Psalms 51. The good Spirit works good in those who partake of the gift.

The expression: for thy name’s sake, Psalms 143:11, is a standing one with David—comp. Psalms 23:3, Psalms 25:11, Psalms 31:3, Psalms 109:20. On: thou wilt quicken me, comp. Psalms 138:7. On this: after thy righteousness, Psalms 143:1, and Psalms 31:1. On the last words, Psalms 142:7, Psalms 25:15, Psalms 34:17.

On the first member of Psalms 143:12, comp. Psalms 31:16, Psalms 18:40. האבדת , the pret., as an expression of confidence, to which the Psalmist rose from the prayer through the intermediate stage of hope (the fut. in the preceding verb), points distinctly to Deuteronomy 7:24. On the last words: for I am thy servant, Calvin says: “By naming himself the servant of God, he by no means extols his own services, but rather commends the grace of God, to which ought to be referred what he had done with acceptance. For not by our own prowess or labour is this dignity acquired, that we should be reckoned among the servants of God, but it depends on his free election, which even before we were born has graciously appointed us to the number and rank of his people.”

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 143". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.