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“A maschil of David,” ie., an instruction or a didactic poem by David. “A prayer when he was in the cave;” “That is,” says Barnes, “either a prayer which he composed while there, or which he composed afterwards, putting into a poetic form the substance of the prayer which he breathed forth there. The reference may be either to the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1), or to that in Engedi (1 Samuel 24:3). In both cases the circumstances were substantially the same, for David had fled to the cave to escape from Saul. It is a cry of distress when there was no refuge—no hope—but in God; when there seemed to be no way of escape from his enemies; and when, forsaken by his friends, and pursued by an enemy who sought his life, he seemed now to be in the power of his foe. It may also be used to express the feelings of one now in danger,—as of a sinner under condemnation, seeing no way of escape, exposed to ruin, and shut up entirely to the mercy of God. Such a one feels as David did on this occasion, that there can be no escape but through the interposition of God.”
Many of the Psalms give utterance to the same feelings. Over and over again we have Psalms containing an expression of trouble, prayer for relief, and believing expectation of deliverance. With such similarity of sentiment, variety of homiletic treatment is very difficult, if the main points in each Psalm are to be indicated in such treatment. The chief characteristics of this Psalm—distress, prayer, and hope—we have met with repeatedly in our survey of this book.
A PRAYER OF THE GODLY MAN FROM THE DEPTHS OF DISTRESS
We have here:—
I. A picture of deep distress. Several features of the distress of the poet are here set forth.
1. The persecution of his enemies. “In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me.… Deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I.” His enemies were
(1) cunning. In his path they had hidden a snare for him, with a view to entrap and injure him. Their persecution was not open and manly, but secret and artful. Even in the path of his duty they had concealed their snares for his overthrow. They were
(2) powerful. “My persecutors are stronger than I.” Saul and his emissaries are here referred to. They were more in number, better equipped, and better fitted for warfare than David and his party were. He felt that he was no match for his enemies. There were times in which David suffered the deepest dejection and distress of spirit by reason of the persecutions of Saul (1 Samuel 20:1; 1 Samuel 20:3; 1 Samuel 20:41-9.20.42; 1 Samuel 27:1). Of ourselves we are unable to cope successfully with the enemies of our spiritual life and interests. Our foes are too subtle and too strong for our unaided efforts; but, like David, we can seek help from on high.
2. The failure of human help. “I looked on my right hand and beheld, but there was no man that would know me; refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.” These words are not to be taken as a literal description of the circumstances of David either in the cave of Adullam or in that of Engedi. The meaning is that there was no one to whom he could look for protection, no one on whom he could rely. Those who were with him were not able to protect him; those who were able to do so cared not for his life. Deep and painful was his sense of loneliness. He was in constant peril, yet of those who might perhaps have rendered him effectual aid none were concerned for him. There are times in the life of almost every man when he seems bereft of human sympathy and help. There are some cases in which man might render aid if he would, but he will not. There are others in which man would render aid if he could, but he cannot. There are needs to which only He who is both God and man can minister.
3. The depression of his outward circumstances and inward condition. In his outward circumstances he seems to have been greatly reduced. “I am brought very low.” And his spiritual state was that of deep distress. “My spirit is overwhelmed within me.” His outward condition was almost desperate, and the deep prostration of his spirit corresponded thereto. Darkness seemed to be settling down upon both his soul and his circumstances. Many a godly soul has passed through similar experiences. Darkness and trial to some extent fall to the lot of every good man in this life. It is well that it is so. The gloom of the night is as needful as the glory of the day. “Sweet are the uses of adversity.”
II. A prayer of strong confidence. The Psalmist manifests his faith in—
1. God’s accessibleness to him. “I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication. I poured out my complaint before Him; I showed before Him my trouble.” The fact that he thus unfolded the tale of his woes to God, and entreated His mercy, is conclusive evidence that he believed that God may be approached by His creatures in prayer.
2. God’s interest in him. Unless the Psalmist had believed in God’s kind interest in him, he could not have poured out his complaint before Him as he does in this Psalm. God is both accessible to us and interested in us. “The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles.” “The Lord heareth the prayer of the righteous.” “If we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us.” “He careth for you.”
3. God’s knowledge of him. “When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then Thou knewest my path.” The dangers that beset the poet and the troubles that distressed him were all known to God. The conviction of this must have been a source of unspeakable comfort and strength to David. This assurance was precious to the afflicted Patriarch of Uz. “He knoweth the way that I take: when He hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.” Be comforted, my distressed brother; the Lord knoweth thy path, He is watching over thee, He careth for thee, &c.
4. God’s protection of him. “I cried unto Thee, O Lord; I said, Thou art my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” The Psalmist found security and comfort in the Lord, who was the source of his help and the God of his salvation. The Lord was his only refuge. There is a well-known picture of a large cross hewn out in the form of a rock standing in the midst of a wild and raging sea to which a struggling form clings with the tenacity of despair. Our Lord is that rock. The floods of this world’s strife and sorrow and pain may well-nigh overwhelm us, the seething waves of sin may lash wildly about us, but if we have found Him, He will be to us a sure refuge and rock of defence. God is the only sure refuge in the storms of life, and He is a refuge which is inviolably secure and ever available.
5. Upon this confidence in God the Psalmist bases his prayer to Him for deliverance. “Attend unto my cry, for I am brought very low; deliver me from my persecutors, for they are stronger than I. Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Thy name.” David seemed imprisoned by difficulties and dangers, encompassed with enemies, and unable to effect his escape, and he cried with well-founded confidence to God for emancipation. We know how glorious an answer he received to his prayer. God granted him complete deliverance and high distinction—translated him, in His own time and way, from the cave of the outlaw to the throne of the king. In this we have an illustration of the way in which He ever answers sincere and believing prayer.
III. An anticipation of a happy issue of his distress.
The poet anticipates—
1. That God would completely deliver him. “Thou shalt deal bountifully with me.” He anticipated not mere deliverance, but such a deliverance and such blessings as would result from the bountiful dealings of the gracious Lord.
2. That he would praise God. “That I may praise Thy name.” In the complete deliverance which he anticipated he would have occasion to praise the name of the Lord, and he would joyfully improve the occasion. The benefit of the salvation being his, its glory he would heartily ascribe to God.
3. That the righteous would rejoice in his deliverance. “The righteous shall compass me about, for Thou,” &c. David anticipated that the righteous would be encouraged by his salvation, and would resort unto him with gladness and with congratulations. Thus in his distress the poet anticipates complete and joyous deliverance,—a deliverance that shall awaken his own heart to glad and grateful praise, and call forth the congratulations of all the godly.
CONCLUSION.—Distress is a common experience in this life. But the resources of men when in distress greatly differ. There is but one true and adequate Refuge. To Him David turned in confidence, and found safety and relief. Let all distressed souls look to Him, and they shall not be disappointed.
THE SORROWS OF THE SOUL AND THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
“When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then Thou knewest my path.”
We have here—
I. A figure indicating great sorrow.
“My spirit was overwhelmed within me.” The expression sets forth the sorest distress.
1. Distress in that part of man’s nature where it is most severely felt. “My spirit.” “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?” If the spirit be peaceful and blessed, if it be inspired by joy and hope, it enables man to triumph over the severest physical sufferings. Paul and Silas at Philippi, in the inner prison, with their feet fast in the stocks, and their backs torn and tortured by many stripes, rose superior to their circumstances and their sufferings, and caused the prison to resound with their songs of praise. Christian martyrs have exulted in the flames which were consuming their bodies. St. Stephen, who was stoned to death, “fell asleep.” Physically his death was a cruel and painful thing; but the faith and hope and vision which animated his spirit made his death a euthanasia. But who can rise above the sorrows of the soul? When the spirit suffers, the man himself suffers; when it is overwhelmed, the whole nature is overwhelmed.
2. Distress of the severest kind. “My spirit was overwhelmed.” Sorrow had submerged him. Great afflictions are frequently represented by the figure of overwhelming floods. “Deep calleth unto deep,” &c. (Psalms 42:7). “Let me be delivered out of the deep waters,” &c. (Psalms 69:14-19.69.15). “Thou hast afflicted me with all Thy waves” (Psalms 88:7). “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee,” &c. (Isaiah 43:2). Such sore distress sometimes befalls the servants of God. Great saints have great sorrows. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth,” &c. (Hebrews 12:6-58.12.7).
II. A fact affording great consolation.
“Then Thou knewest my path.” All the painful and perilous wanderings of David were known to God. (Comp. Psalms 56:8.)
1. This fact may be abundantly confirmed. An infinite Being must know all things. Nothing is so great as to exceed His comprehension; nothing so small as to elude His notice. The Bible asserts God’s omniscience (2 Kings 19:27; Psalms 139:1-19.139.4; Hebrews 4:13). How strikingly our Lord declared God’s perfect knowledge of His people! (Matthew 6:32; Matthew 10:30.) The history of good men illustrates it. In the lives of Joseph and Moses, David and Daniel, Paul and John, how clearly does this truth shine forth,—“Thou knewest their path.”
2. This fact is very comprehensive. It implies much more than it expresses. The knowledge which is here affirmed implies approbation and guidance, protection and provision, kindness and care. Thus David Dickson says: “ ‘Thou knewest my path;’ that is, Thou approvedst my part, who was unjustly pursued.” And Charnocke: “This knowledge adds to the simple act of the understanding, the complacency and pleasure of the will. ‘The Lord knows who are His,’ that is, He loves them; He doth not only know them but acknowledge them for His own. It notes not only an exact understanding, but a special care of them.… On the contrary, also, whom God doth not approve, He is said not to know (Matthew 25:12), ‘I know you not,’ and (Matthew 7:23), ‘I never knew you;’ He doth not approve of their works. It is not an ignorance of understanding, but an ignorance of will; for while He saith He never knew them, He testifies that He did know them, in rendering the reason of His disapproving them, because’ He knows all their works: so He knows them, and doth not know them in a different manner: He knows them so as to understand them, but He doth not know them so as to love them.” “Thou knewest my path” implies, Thou didst approve and direct, sustain and secure, my way.
3. This fact is very consolatory. That it was so to David appears from our text, and from Psalms 56:8. It was so to the sorely-afflicted Job: “He knoweth the way that I take,” &c. (Job 23:10). Amid misrepresentation to be able to make our appeal to Him; amid persecution to be assured of His protection; amid sorrow of soul to know that we have His sympathy; in loneliness to realise His friendly presence,—these afford the richest consolation and the most effective help. To possess these is the privilege of every child of God.
THE DUTY OF CARING FOR SOULS
“No man cared for my soul.”
Let us inquire—
I. What it is to care for the souls of others. The care of the soul involves—
1. A deep and heartfelt conviction of its worth. The care of an object is generally in proportion to its value. The soul is spiritual in its nature, noble in its capacities, and eternal in its duration.
2. A deep and thorough sense of the danger to which it is exposed. We are not in the habit of caring for that which is invaluable if it is secure; but here is an object of inestimable worth exposed to danger the most imminent—to a destruction the most severe.
3. Tender solicitude for its welfare. Examples of tender solicitude for souls are not wanting in the inspired volume (Psalms 119:136; Jeremiah 9:1). But if we want to see true solicitude for souls, we must look for its manifestation in the conduct of Him who, when He beheld the city, wept over it, &c.
4. Zealous exertion for their salvation. If love to souls really exist, it will manifest itself in ardent and continued effort to diffuse the knowledge of Christ among men. In solemn warning, affectionate entreaty, earnest prayer, and liberal contribution.
II. On whom this duty devolves.
1. It is incumbent on the heads of families. God holds them, to a certain extent, accountable for the souls under their care.
2. On all the members of the Church. Collectively and individually. To these is committed the evangelisation of the world.
3. Pre-eminently on ministers. The “care of souls” is the minister’s province. His studies in private, his discourses in public, his prayers, his visits, his time, his talents, ought all to be devoted to this object.
III. The great evil of neglecting this duty.
1. It is cruel. A man would be considered cruel who saw one of the “beasts that perish” in danger, and did not attempt its rescue. He is cruel, who, having it in his power to relieve the necessitous, or save the perishing, does not do it. But the cruelty of the man who, knowing the danger of souls, does not care for them, is beyond expression.
2. It is ungrateful. If others had not cared for us, we must have perished. And shall we refuse to feel and labour for those who are now what we were once, and for whom the Saviour has, as well as for us, shed His own precious blood?
3. It is criminal. We cannot neglect the salvation of others and be innocent. Disobedience to God, and cruelty to men, are joined in neglecting to care for souls.
4. It is fatal. Fatal to those who are perishing, and fatal to those who have a name to live; fatal to all genuine piety, fatal to all ardent love to the Saviour’s cause, fatal to zealous exertions for others, but especially fatal to our own souls.—N. in Sketches of Sermons. Abridged.
HUMAN IMPRISONMENT AND DIVINE EMANCIPATION
“Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Thy name.”
We shall use these words to illustrate—
I. Man’s imprisonment as a sinner. Man as a sinner is in bondage, oppressed with guilt, enslaved by carnal passions and evil habits; he is in “prison.” Now imprisonment implies—
1. The criminality of the prisoner. The prisoner is either awaiting his trial on a charge of crime, or enduring his punishment as a criminal. Man has sinned and is guilty before God. The voice of God, both in the Bible and in his own conscience, condemns him.
2. Deprivation to the prisoner. The prisoner is deprived of
(1.) Liberty. He is confined by massive walls, strong bolts and bars, &c. The sinner is bound by the chain of his sins.
(2.) Light. Darkness is almost entirely supreme in the prison cells. The soul which is dominated by sin is blind to the beautiful light of the spiritual universe: its “understanding is darkened.”
(3.) Society. The prisoner is secluded from society. The unrenewed soul is a stranger to the highest fellowship; he is self-exiled from the society of true and holy souls.
The imprisonment of the soul is a far greater evil than that of the body. When the body is imprisoned, the soul may be free and joyous. When the bodies of Paul and Silas were in prison at Philippi with “their feet fast in the stocks,” their souls went forth in worship, &c. When the body of Bunyan was in Bedford jail, his soul went forth on that glorious pilgrimage to the celestial city. His body was in the jail, but his soul—himself—was in the interpreter’s house, and the house beautiful, on the delectable mountains, &c.
“Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for a hermitage.
If I have freedom in my lore,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above
Enjoy such liberty.”—Lovelace.
But the imprisonment of the soul is the imprisonment of the man himself. Death terminates the imprisonment of the body, if it is not terminated before. But death has no power to liberate the soul from the prison and the fetters of corrupt passions, sinful habits, &c. “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins.”
II. Man’s emancipation by the Saviour. “Bring my soul out of prison.” This prayer implies—
1. A consciousness of the misery of imprisonment. This is the first step, and an essential step, to liberation.
2. A desire for emancipation. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?” &c.
3. A consciousness of inability to effect his own deliverance. Man is too completely and securely fettered to be able to liberate himself. He must feel this before he can obtain his freedom.
4. Confidence in the Lord Jesus as the great Emancipator. He was “anointed to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to the bound.” “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
III. Man’s praise to the Emancipator. “That I may praise Thy name.”
1. Imprisonment restrains true praise. Sin crushes the affections and aspirations of the soul towards God.
3. Emancipation gives occasion for praise. It would be such an expression of the goodness of God as would merit grateful and hearty acknowledgment.
3. Emancipation imparts inspiration to praise. The sense of freedom, the beauty of light, the pleasures of society, to which the liberated soul is introduced, will constitute an irresistible impulse to praise the Emancipator.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 142". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany