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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

Psalms 143

Verses 1-12

Psalms 143:0

A Psalm of David

          Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications:

In thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness.

2     And enter not into judgment with thy servant;

For in thy sight shall no man living be justified.

3     For the enemy hath persecuted my soul;

He hath smitten my life down to the ground;
He hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead.

4     Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me;

My heart within me is desolate.

5     I remember the days of old;

I meditate on all thy works;
I muse on the work of thy hands.

6     I stretch forth my hands unto thee:

My soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah.

7     Hear me speedily, O Lord; my spirit faileth:

Hide not thy face from me,
Lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.

8     Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning;

For in thee do I trust:
Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk;
For I lift up my soul unto thee.

9     Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies:

I flee unto thee to hide me.

10     Teach me to do thy will;

For thou art my God

Thy Spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness.

11     Quicken me, O Lord, for thy name’s sake:

For thy righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble.

12     And of thy mercy cut off mine enemies,

And destroy all them that afflict my soul:
For I am thy servant.


Contents and Composition.—This, the last of the seven penitential Psalms, is in some manuscripts without a superscription. In others there is besides the one above given, the addition: When Absalom his son pursued him. The circumstances of the suppliant as here depicted, agree with this statement. For, surrounded by implacable enemies, who have brought him nigh to death, the servant of God has only Him remaining as his refuge. This Refuge is a sure one, and is ardently desired, and therefore besought in prayer with the fervor of a soul that longs for deliverance. For with all his trust in God’s faithfulness and helpful righteousness, so far as his relation to his enemies is concerned, he has yet a strong feeling of his human sinfulness before God, and therefore a strong need of His pardoning mercy and of guidance through His good Spirit.

These thoughts are characteristic of David, but here and there they appear in a form which might be regarded as “a later effort to copy after the Davidic Psalm-poetry” (Delitzsch). “He who knows David, finds here also that penitent confession to God, that humility, that longing after God, that sure confiding in Him as his refuge, and invocation of His help and deliverance from enemies for the sake of His goodness, that submission to Him, that desire for His holy guidance, that experience of the Lord, and praise inspired by such experience, that confidence in His holy righteousness, and that humble and elevating consciousness of being the servant of the Lord, which are so entirely characteristic of David” (Clauss.) This may be granted and yet it be doubted, whether such a poet as David would have so copied himself, as would be the case if the Davidic authorship were proved. One might pray in the same language, but would not repeat himself in different poems. The numerous, reminiscences of other passages of Scripture which are found confirm this supposition.

[The application of this canon to Hebrew poets, and especially to such a one as David, who wrote so much in this style, and who seemed to make his repeated experiences of similar distresses so many occasions of compositions of this nature, is hardly just. Besides, there are many instances of repetitions in Psalms in the earlier portion of the Psalter, which are acknowledged to be those of David, and they do not occasion any difficulty. Of course there is no instance there so striking as this, but they give an indication of what David might accomplish in the way of combining familiar thoughts and images, and setting them in the light of renewed revelations of God’s power and goodness in the midst of his own renewed distress and feeling of weakness. At all events, the poem, even with the familiarity of its ideas, forms a complete whole which is worthy of David, and which no critic need on that score hesitate to assign to him. Hengstenberg again stands alone among recent continental commentators in maintaining the Davidic authorship. Perowne again follows the majority on the other side, and inclines to the view of a late composition. Delitzsch finds in the addition to the title given in some copies of the Septuagint quoted above, confirmation of his favorite idea that most of the Psalms in this group were intended to describe the feelings of David during his flight before Absalom. This is probable enough; but is it probable that any writer at a late period would seek to illustrate by a series of Psalms, this or any other period of David’s life, when it had already been so abundantly illustrated by David himself? Alexander, Wordsworth, and most English commentators hold to the Davidic composition.—J. F. M]

Psalms 143:1-19.143.2. In Thy faithfulness answer me, in Thy righteousness.—It does not remain undefined what God is to answer. For in the first place, “answering” is only another expression for hearing, and, in the next place, the two additions to the request furnish a more definite indication of its meaning. The faithfulness of God is His faithfulness to His promises, or the truthfulness of His nature, in conformity with which everything that He has spoken or ordained is reliable and unchangeable. His righteousness is the corresponding course of action by which His ordinances are firmly established and fulfilled in the world, so that there is rendered to every man according to his works. There is no occasion of thinking here of particular promises, or of 2 Samuel 7:0. (Hengstenberg); or for changing the notion of righteousness into that of goodness (Köster). God’s faithfulness and righteousness are thus assured, as in 1 John 1:9, and the repenting receive the forgiveness of their sins, but the impenitent, judgment. From one point of view, therefore, the pious man is righteous, a servant of God; from another, he, as a man, is not perfect like God, but rather needing to be spared in judgment, to receive pardon and mercy. Psalms 143:12 shows that in Psalms 143:2 also the phrase: “Thy servant” is not a mere oriental circumlocution for the person speaking (Hupf ), and not merely a term of polite address. The prayer that God might not enter into judgment with him as his Accuser and Judge, (Job 9:32; Job 14:3; Job 22:4 f.; Isaiah 3:14), has a twofold ground: first, the absence, common to all the living, of perfect righteousness, acceptable before God, (Psalms 130:3; Job 4:17; Job 9:2; Job 14:4; Job 15:14; Job 25:4; Romans 3:20); then his own personal and deadly peril, which the suppliant suffers through the persecutions of his enemies, and which he knows to be a Divine judgment upon him for his sins which are not expiated.

Psalms 143:3 c. is in the exact words of Lamentations 3:6. But the expression does not mean: the dead of the world (Septuagint, Luther). [This translation arises from the false adoption of the later Hebrew and Rabbinical usage of ôlam. See on Psalms 89:2.—J. F. M.] It refers either to those who died long before, and are placed among those of the olden time, Ezekiel 26:20 (Jerome, Hitzig), or to those who are eternally, for ever dead (Syriac, Hupfeld, Delitzsch), who have an existence without hope, sleep an eternal sleep (Jeremiah 51:39; Jeremiah 51:57) in the gloomy abode of the dead, which remains ever as it is (Ecclesiastes 12:5), in contrast to the life which has no end (Daniel 12:7). The latter explanation suits the present passage best, for the Psalmist evidently means to say that his enemies are intent upon his utter destruction, and that he would remain without deliverance, unless God in mercy were to take up his defence.

Psalms 143:4-19.143.8. On this account his distress is so great that he is inwardly overwhelmed with darkness (Psalms 77:4; Psalms 142:4), and is like a languishing land (Psalms 63:2). [Psalms 143:6, E. V.: thirsty land, comp. Isaiah 32:2.] The contrast to former times, with the recollection of God’s dealings then, joined to thoughtful contemplation of the reality of His power as displayed in His works, makes his anguish the more intense, his longing the more consuming, his supplicating cry the more urgent (Psalms 27:9; Psalms 69:18; Psalms 84:3; Psalms 102:3). If the help of God should tarry (Psalms 143:7) he would become like those that descend to the abyss (Psalms 28:1; Psalms 88:5). He prays that even the next morning should end the night of his sorrow, and expects an answer to his prayer upon the ground of his trust (Psalms 25:1 f.; Psalms 86:4). [The mode of expression in Psalms 143:6 b. is peculiar. It is literally: my soul (is), like a languishing land for Thee, i.e., my soul languishes for Thee, as a thirsty land for rain. Calvin: “In great heat, we see the earth cracking and gaping, as though with open mouth she asked for the rain from heaven.”—J. F. M.]

Psalms 143:9-19.143.12. [In Psalms 143:9 b., E. V. combines the Septuagint rendering: I fled to Thee, with the notion of the Hebrew word which means here: to cover, hide one’s self. The latter was thus assumed to be a pregnant expression, and so translated. But the Septuagint had a false reading: נסתי, I fled, which gave rise to misconceptions among the older expositors. Calvin, however, perceived the true construction, for which Hengst., Delitzsch, Ewald, Maurer, Alexander, Perowne, Wordsworth and most recent expositors decide. Delitzsch expresses it thus: ad (apud) te abscondidi (me): To (with) Thee have I hidden (myself). Genesis 38:14 affords the most perfect parallel in construction. See further by Dr. Moll.—J. F. M.] In Psalms 143:9 b. we might be tempted to change כִּסִּיתִי, which has been variously explained, into חסיתי, the idea conveyed by which the ancient translations and expositions directly express. But it is not absolutely necessary, for the notions of covering and refuge are united in the intermediate one of hiding. The way of deliverance is to the servant of God no external one, but a way of salvation, which the commandments of God point out, in which the Spirit of God, who is good (so must we translate literally in ver 10c.), is the Guide. And those who submit to this guidance to fulfil the commandments of God, walk not merely upon a direct or right way (Psalms 27:11), but in an even land, i.e., without stumbling or being obstructed in their successful and happy progress. It is therefore quite unnecessary to change אֶרֶץ into אֹרחַ (Hupfeld). [Delitzsch refers to Isaiah 26:7 as a parallel passage, and remarks that these words, which in Deuteronomy 4:43; Jer. 28:41, are a geographical designation, are here applied spiritually. The verbs in Psalms 143:11-19.143.12 should be rendered by the future: Thou wilt quicken me, etc., not in the imper., as in E. V. With Psalms 143:11 comp. Psalms 138:7; Psalms 25:15; Psalms 34:18; with Psalms 143:12, Psalms 31:17; Psalms 18:41; Deuteronomy 7:24.—J. F. M.]


It is not only the man who is persecuted in the world that is permitted to make God his refuge; the mourning sinner may come to Him also; but he must do so according to the appointed way of salvation—God not only teaches His servants by His word; He guides them also by His Spirit, and helps them to live by His strength.—If God goes with us into judgment, we are lost; but if we repent, He delivers us.—God’s faithfulness and righteousness are a terror to sinners, but a consolation to the penitent and an assurance of salvation to His pious servants.

Starke: It is no easy matter to pray rightly and so as to obtain an answer. Great and earnest striving are necessary to it.—The only ground upon which repenting sinners can with assurance approach God’s throne is His mercy and truth in Christ Jesus.—Learn to know the multitude of thy sins and the strict judgment of God, so that thou mayest know His great mercy and pray the more earnestly for forgiveness.—Because even pious men sometimes love the darkness rather than the light, God sends them affliction, that the world may become distasteful to them.—The examples of the saints of old are at this hour a comfort to afflicted souls and terrifying to their enemies.—Thirsting, longing, hoping, and yearning after God are sure indications of a believing soul and of true prayer.—When a soul thirsts after God’s favor, it is a sure proof that it is not utterly forsaken by Him.—Many pray for a speedy answer, and do not reflect that God must have waited long for their crying.—As distress is felt, so also is prayer; it breaks forth all the more strongly, the more distressed the suppliant is in his own eyes.—The divine consolation is the sweeter to the soul, the longer it had to wait for it, and the greater its sufferings had been.—The favor of God is the most necessary thing for man in this life, and should be the object of his highest concern.—There are many false guides who pretend to bear us happily over the journey of life; but he who does not keep close to God as his leader and guide and follow Him in everything, is led astray.—The divine deliverance of believers is commonly connected with the destruction of their ungodly enemies.

Franke: When a man resolves with heart and soul to be and remain a servant of God, God will not forsake him; but where He is, there will also His servant be.—Diedrich: In all earthly trials we must learn, after all our distress, to know our own hearts better, for only so will suffering draw us to the living God.—Taube: In the lasting heat of suffering, true faith will only burn more strongly and be lit up with a brighter glow.—The connection of justification and sanctification.

[Matt. Henry: As a thirsty land, which, being parched with excessive heat, gapes for rain, so do I need, so do I crave the support and refreshment of divine consolation under mine afflictions, and nothing else will relieve me.—This is the best course we can take when our spirits are overwhelmed; and justly do they sink under their load who do not take such a ready way as this to relieve themselves.—Those that have the truth of grace cannot but desire to have the evidence of it.—Preservations are pledges of salvation, and those shall find God their hiding-place that by faith make Him so.—Bp. Horne (Psalms 143:5): While we muse on such instances of His goodness, the reflection is obvious: Is He not still the same gracious God? Will He not do as much for us upon our repentance as He formerly did for others upon theirs? Let us arise and go to our Father.—Scott: The believer has not only the faithfulness, but the righteousness of God engaged in his behalf: much more then may he be confident that he has justice on his side in those causes that are pending between him and his persecutors before the supreme Judge.—The trembling sinner, who has lately discovered that he cannot stand in judgment before God, need not be discouraged on that account; for the greatest of saints have confessed the same.—Barnes: Our hope is in the mercy, not in the justice of God.—J. F. M.]

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 143". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.