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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 143


A Psalm of David.

This psalm is attributed to David in the heavy night that hung over him in his flight before Absalom. While that is clearly the occasion, it is not so clear that it is David’s own utterance. Some words, as ישׁתומם , (Psalms 143:4,) are peculiar to the later Hebrew, and suggest that some troubled mind, in later times, may have felt a true sympathy with David’s darkness and sorrow, and have uttered itself in his style; or he may have transcribed this Davidic effusion as expressive of his own feelings and condition. It is certainly the cry of one in grief and gloom. Many of the expressions are employed in other psalms, and have here no novelty of meaning.

Verse 1

1. In thy faithfulness… righteousness The “faithfulness” and “righteousness” are conformity to the system of revealed mercy. There is a “righteousness” in taking vengeance, but God is also “faithful and just to forgive” when forgiveness is sought in his appointed way.

Verse 2

2. Enter not into judgment A bitter element in David’s trouble with Absalom, which does not appear in his matters with Saul, is his own guilt. David had so sinned, and in such various ways, that pardon must be his first relief. This gives the psalm a peculiarly human quality, for most of our troubles, certainly our worst ones, are woven in with misdeeds: and who is free from misdeeds?

Verse 3

3. Have been long dead Or, have been “dead” from immemorial time, or, more literally, those that are for ever dead, who cannot rise from the grave, but are hopelessly bound in its chains of darkness. But in this sense it is simply hypothetical.

Verse 4

4. My heart… is desolate A physical allusion signifying, “Is failing to beat,” “is getting torpid.” In sorrow the nervous currents diminish, and organic activity of the body declines.

Verse 5

5. I remember the days of old This refers to no far antiquity, but only to the deliverances of David’s earlier life in perils with Goliath and with Saul. To have forfeited the mercy that then was his help, makes his present case more intensely painful.

Verse 6

6. As a thirsty land A parched land opens in seams and cracks “poor, poor dumb mouths” to plead for rain. So David waits in silent, anxious attitude of prayer.

Verse 7

7. Hear me speedily This second half of the psalm presents many thoughts already familiar. The night is advancing, and with the dawn, comes battle, and, unless he gain the ear and aid of Jehovah, utter ruin will also come, irretrievable as a plunge into the bottomless.

Verse 8

8. Cause me to hear The morning will bring the trumpet call, and the marshalling and march of the host. For that reason the guiding voice of divine mercy, and the pointing of divine guidance, are a more pressing necessity. In this verse is a certain sense of relief, as if the psalmist were consciously casting his burden on the Lord.

Verse 9

9. I flee unto thee The latter part of this verse has perplexed translators, but our version is very correct and beautiful. “To thee have I given it for concealment” is the only other rendering favoured by the best critics, “it,” being “my trouble.” The version in our text is better.

Verse 10

10. Thy spirit is good Probably it is better to read: “Let thy Spirit, which is good, lead me,” etc. “Land of uprightness” is Hebrew for “a level country,” one in which he can see a long distance, and determine his course with ease and safety.

Verse 11

11. For thy name’s sake An appeal to God for help for his “name’s sake” is an admission that he who makes the appeal has no merit, and can, of himself, offer no adequate inducement. It is the language of self-renunciation. So is the appeal to the divine righteousness, or the harmony of God’s ways with themselves.

Verse 12

12. I am thy servant The petition of this and the preceding verse is now rested on the basis given in the last clause. It is not righteous as the word is used in this psalm that God fail to protect one who takes refuge with him, or that he leave his own servant to be the victim of his enemies. So, like many others, this psalm, with all its pains and struggles, ends in the calm and restful quietude of faith.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 143". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.