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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Bible Commentary

Psalms 142

Verses 1-7

Psalms 142:1-7

THE superscription not only calls this a psalm of David’s, but specifies the circumstances of its composition. It breathes the same spirit of mingled fear and faith which characterises many earlier psalms, but one fails to catch the unmistakable note of freshness, and there are numerous echoes of preceding singers. This psalmist has as deep sorrows as his predecessors, and as firm a grasp of Jehovah, his helper. His song runs naturally in well-worn channels, and is none the less genuine and acceptable to God because it does. Trouble and lack of human sympathy or help have done their best work on him, since they have driven him to God’s breast. He has cried in vain to man; and now he has gathered himself up in a firm resolve to cast himself upon God. Men may take offence that they are only appealed to as a last resort, but God does not. The psalmist is too much in earnest to be content with unspoken prayers. His voice must help his thoughts. Wonderful is the power of articulate utterance in defining, and often in diminishing, sorrows. Put into words, many a burden shrinks. Speaking his grief, many a man is calmed and braced to endure. The complaint poured out before God ceases to flood the spirit; the straits told to Him begin to grip less tightly.

Psalms 142:1 resembles Psalms 77:1, and Psalms 142:3 has the same vivid expression for a spirit swathed in melancholy as Psalms 77:3. Hupfeld would transfer Psalms 142:3 a to Psalms 142:2, as being superfluous in Psalms 142:3, and, in connection with the preceding, stating the situation or disposition from which the psalmist’s prayer flows. If so taken, the copula (And) introducing b will be equivalent to "But," and contrasts the omniscience of God with the psalmist’s faintheartedness. If the usual division of verses is retained, the same contrast is presented still more forcibly, and the copula may be rendered "Then." The outpouring of complaint is not meant to tell Jehovah what He does not know. It is for the complainer’s relief, not for God’s information. However a soul is wrapped, in gloom, the thought that God knows the road which is so dark brings a little creeping beam into the blackness. In the strength of that conviction the psalmist beseeches Jehovah to behold what He does behold. That is the paradox of faithful prayer, which asks for what it knows that it possesses, and dared not ask for unless it knew. The form of the word rendered above "Look" is irregular, a "hybrid" (Delitzsch); but when standing beside the following "see," it is best taken as an imperative of petition to Jehovah. The old versions render both wards as first person singular, in which they are followed by Baethgen, Graetz, and Cheyne. It is perhaps more natural that the psalmist should represent himself as looking round in vain for help, than that he should ask God to look; and, as Baethgen remarks, the copula before "There is none" in Psalms 142:4 b favours this reading, as it is superfluous with an imperative. In either case the drift of Psalms 142:4 is to set forth the suppliant’s forlorn condition. The "right hand" is the place for a champion or helper, but this lonely sufferer’s is unguarded, and there is none who knows him, in the sense of recognising him as one to be helped. {Ruth 2:10; Ruth 2:19} Thus abandoned, friendless, and solitary, confronted by foes, he looks about for some place to hide in; but that too has failed him. {Job 11:20; Jeremiah 25:35; Amos 2:14} There is no man interested enough in him to make inquiry after his life. Whether he is alive or dead matters not a straw to any.

Thus utterly naked of help, allies, and earthly hiding place, what can a man do but fling himself into the arms of God? This one does so. as the rest of the psalm tells. He had looked all round the horizon in vain for a safe cranny to creep into and escape. He was out in the open, without a bush or rock to hide behind, on all the dreary level. So he looks up, and suddenly there rises by his side an inexpugnable fortress, as if a mountain sprang at once from the flat earth. "I have said, Thou art my refuge!" Whoso says thus has a shelter, some one to care for him, and the gloom begins to thin off from his soul. The psalmist is not only safe in consequence of his prayer, but rich; for the soul which, by strong resolve, even in the midst of straits, claims God as its portion will at once realise its portion in God.

The prayer for complete deliverance in Psalms 142:6-7 passes into calmness, even while it continues fully conscious of peril and of the power of the pursuers. Such is the reward of invoking Jehovah’s help. Agitation is soothed, and, even before any outward effect has been manifest, the peace of God begins to shed itself over heart and mind. The suppliant still spreads his needs before God, is still conscious of much weakness, of strong persecutors, and feels that he is, as it were, in prison (an evident metaphor, though Graetz, with singular prosaicness, will have it to be literal); but he has hold of God now, and so is sure of deliverance, and already begins to shape his lips for songs of praise, and to anticipate the triumph which his experience will afford to those who are righteous, and so are his fellows. He was not, then, so utterly solitary as he had wailed that he was. There were some who would joy in his joy, even if they could not help his misery. But the soul that has to wade through deep waters has always to do it alone; for no human sympathy reaches to full knowledge of, or share in, even the best loved one’s grief. We have companions in joy; sorrow we have to face by ourselves. Unless we have Jesus with us in the darkness, we have no one.

The word rendered above "shall glory" is taken in different meanings. According to some, it is to be rendered here "surround"-i.e., with congratulations; others would take the meaning to be "shall crown themselves"-i.e., " triumph on my account" (Delitzsch, etc.). Graetz suggests a plausible emendation, which Cheyne adopts, reading "glory in," the resulting meaning being the same as that of Delitzsch. The notion of participation in the psalmist’s triumph is evidently intended to be conveyed; and any of these renderings preserves that. Possibly surround is most in accordance with the usage of the word. Thus the psalmist’s plaints end, as plaints which are prayers ever do, in triumph anticipated by faith, and one day to be realised in experience.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 142". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary".