PSALM 143 OVERVIEW.
Title. A Psalm of David. It is so much like other Davidic psalms that we accept the title without a moment's hesitation. David's history illustrates it, and his spirit breathes in it. Why it has been set down as one of the seven Penitential Psalms we can hardly tell; for it is rather a vindication of his own integrity, and an indignant prayer against his slanderers, than a confession of fault. It is true the second verse proves that he never dreamed of justifying himself before the Lord; but even in it there is scarcely the brokenness of penitence. It seems to us rather martial than penitential, rather a supplication for deliverance from trouble than a weeping acknowledgment of transgression. We suppose that seven penitentials were needed by ecclesiastical rabbis, and therefore this was impressed into the service. In truth, it is a mingled strain, a box of ointment composed of divers ingredients, sweet and bitter, pungent and precious. It is the outcry of an overwhelmed spirit, unable to abide in the highest state of spiritual prayer, again and again descending to bewail its deep temporal distress; yet evermore struggling to rise to the best things. The singer moans at intervals; the petitioner for mercy cannot withhold his cries for vindication. His hands are outstretched to heaven, but at his girdle hangs a sharp sword, which rattles in its scabbard as he closes his psalm.
Division. This psalm is divided by the Selah. We prefer to follow the natural cleavage, and therefore have made no other dissection of it. May the Holy Spirit lead us into its inner meaning.
Verse 1. Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications. In the preceding psalm he began by declaring that he had cried unto the Lord; here he begs to be favourably regarded by Jehovah the living God, whose memorial is that he heareth prayer. He knew that Jehovah did hear prayer, and therefore he entreated him to hear his supplication, however feeble and broken it might be. In two forms he implores the one blessing of gracious audience: -- "hear" and "give ear." Gracious men are so eager to be heard in prayer that they double their entreaties for that boon. The Psalmist desires to be heard and to be considered; hence he cries, "hear", and then "give ear." Our case is difficult, and we plead for special attention. Here it is probable that David wished his suit against his adversaries to be heard by the righteous Judge; confident that if he had a hearing in the matter whereof he was slanderously accused, he would be triumphantly acquitted. Yet while somewhat inclined thus to lay his case before the Court of King's Bench, he prefers rather to turn it all into a petition, and present it before the Court of Requests, hence he cries rather "hear my prayer" than "hear my suit." Indeed David is specially earnest that he himself, and the whole of his life, may not become the subject of trial, for in that event he could not hope for acquittal. Observe that he offered so much pleading that his life became one continual prayer; but that petitioning was so varied in form that it broke out in many supplications.
In thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness. Saints desire to be answered as well as heard: they long to find the Lord faithful to his promise and righteous in defending the cause of justice. It is a happy thing when we dare appeal even to righteousness for our deliverance; and this we can do upon gospel principles, for "if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." Even the sterner attributes of God are upon the side of the man who humbly trusts, and turns his trust into prayer. It is a sign of our safety when our interests and those of righteousness are blended. With God's faithfulness and righteousness upon our side we are guarded on the right hand and on the left. These are active attributes, and fully equal to the answering of any prayer which it would be light to answer. Requests which do not appeal to either of these attributes it would not be for the glory of God to hear, for they must contain desires for things not promised, and unrighteous.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. This psalm of David most aptly answereth to that psalm which precedes it; for in Psalms 142:1-7 he showeth that he prayed, repeating it twice ( Psalms 143:1 ); and here he twice saith, "Hear my prayer, give ear to my supplication." In Psalms 142:3 he saith, "When my spirit was overwhelmed within me"; here ( Psalms 143:4 ), "My spirit is overwhelmed within me." --John Mayer.
Whole Psalm. The promise referred to throughout this octave of Psalms 138- 145. is that recorded in 2 Samuel 7:12 , etc., "When thy days be fulfilled ... I will set up thy seed after thee ... and I will establish his kingdom ... If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him ... But my mercy shall not depart away from him; and thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever." What fixes the connection of the psalm with the history is the frequent application of the term "Thy (Jehovah's) servant", by David to himself in the latter, as in Psalms 143:2 144:12 of the former. Jehovah had first used it of David, "Tell to my servant, to David"; David therefore fastens on it as his plea again and again ( 2 Samuel 7:5 2 Samuel 7:9-21 2 Samuel 7:25-29 ). David's plea, "For I am thy servant", is no boast of his service, but a magnifying of God's electing grace: "Who am I, O Lord God? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?" 2 Samuel 7:18 .
The cry ( Psalms 143:6 ) "My soul thirsteth after thee as a thirsty land", answers to David's own words in Ps 63:1, when he was fleeing from Absalom, and still in the wilderness of Judah (title, Ps. 63.) on the near side of Jordan: "My soul thirsteth for thee." The history here again is an undesigned agreement with the psalm ( 2 Samuel 16:2 2 Samuel 16:14 ): "The King, and all the people with him, came weary, and refreshed themselves" with Ziba's fruits; also 2 Samuel 17:2 . The Hebrew for "thirsty" in Psalm 143 is the same as for "weary" in Psalms 63:1 , and in 2 Samuel 16:14 , and means "panting", "weary", "thirsting." --Andrew Robert Fausset, in "Studies in the 150. Psalms", 1876.
Whole Psalm. At the making of this psalm (as it plainly appeareth) David was cast into some desperate danger; whether by Saul when he was forced to flee into the cave, as in the former psalm, or by Absalom his son, or by any other, it is uncertain. Howsoever, in this he complains grievously to God of the malice of his enemies, and desireth God to hear his prayers, he acknowledgeth that he suffereth those things by God's just judgment, most humbly craving mercy for his sins; desiring not only to be restored, but also to be governed by God's Spirit, that he may dedicate and consecrate the rest of his life to God's service. This worthy psalm, then, containeth these three things. First, a confession of his sins. Secondly, a lamentation over his injuries. Thirdly, a supplication for temporal deliverance and spiritual graces. --Archibald Symson.
Whole Psalm. It is not without some use to observe in this psalm how the, heart of its devout composer turned alternately from spiritual to temporal, and again from temporal to spiritual subjects. He first complains of his sins, and begs for mercy; then of his enemies, and prays for deliverance. Then he laments his darkness, and pleads for the light of God's countenance, and for wisdom, and understanding. After this, the thought of his enemies rushes in again upon his soul, and he flees to God for protection. Lastly, he again puts up his prayer for wisdom and holiness: "Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness." This is a peculiarly important petition: before he had prayed to know the way in which he should walk, he now prays that he may walk in it. --John Fawcett, 1769-1851.
Whole Psalm. This is appointed by the Church for Ash Wednesday, and is the seventh and last of the Penitential Psalms. These seven Penitential Psalms also sometimes called "the Special Psalms", and have long been used in Church as the completest and most spiritual acts of repentance which she possesses. They have sometimes been considered as directed against the seven deadly sins; as, for instance, Psalms 6:1-10 , against Wrath; Ps 32:1-11, against Pride Psalms 38:1-22 , against Gluttony; Psalms 51:1-19 , against Impurity; Ps 102:1-28, against Covetousness; Psalms 130:1-8 , against Envy; and the present Psalm against Indifference, Carelessness. --J. W. Burgon.
Verse 1. Hear my prayer, O LORD, etc. Alas, O Lord, if thou hear not prayer, I were as good not pray at all; and if thou hear it, and give not car it, it were as good thou didst not hear it at all. O, therefore, "hear my O God, and give ear to my supplications"; that neither my praying may be lost, want of thy hearing it, nor thy hearing it be lost for want of thy attending it. When I only make a prayer to God, it seems enough that he hear it; but make a supplication, it requires that he give ear unto it: for seeing a supplication hath a greater intention in the setting out, it cannot without a greater, attention be entertained.
But what niceness of words is this? as though it were not all one "to hear" and "to give ear"? or as though there were any difference between a prayer a supplication? Is it not perhaps so indeed? for hearing sometimes may be passive, where giving ear is always active; and seeing Christ, we doubt not, heard the woman of Canaan's first cry, while it was a prayer; but gave no ear till her second cry, when it was grown to a supplication. However it be, as hearing, O God, without giving ear would be to no purpose, so thy giving without giving answer would do me no good; O, therefore, "answer me," God: for if thou answer not my prayer, how canst thou answer my expectations. My prayer is but the seed; it is thy answer that makes the harvest. If thou shouldest not answer me at all, I could not hope for any harvest at all; thou shouldest answer me, and not "in thy righteousness", that would be a indeed, but nothing but of blasted corn. Therefore, answer me, O God, but" thy righteousness"; for thy righteousness never made an unpleasing answer was an answer in thy righteousness which thou madest to Noah: "My shall not always strive with man; for the imagination of man's heart is evil his infancy." It was an answer in thy righteousness which thou madest to Abraham: "Fear not; I will be thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." It was an answer in thy righteousness which thou madest to the thief upon the cross: "This day thou shalt be with me in paradise." Oh, then, answer me in thy righteousness, O God, and then the harvest of my hope will be as the seven years of plenty foretold by Joseph. --Sir Richard Baker.
Verse 1. Hear my prayer. ... give ear to my supplications... answer me. He doth here three times repeat his camest desire to be heard, as in fifth psalm four times he doubles and ingeminateth this same suit to be heard. ... When he doubles his request of hearing, he would have God hear with both his ears, that is, most attentively and readily: so instant is a mind that he desireth the prayer he putteth up to be remembered, as was said the angel to the centurion: "Thy prayer and almsdeeds are come up God": Acts 10:4 . -- Archibald Symson.
Verse 1. In thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness. It was thy righteousness that thou didst make the promise, but it is thy faithfulness that thou wilt keep thy promise: and seeing I am certain of thy making it, how can I be doubtful of thy keeping it? If thou shouldest not answer me in thy righteousness, yet thou shouldest be righteous still; but if thou shouldest not answer me in thy faithfulness, thou shouldest not be faithful still. -- Sir Richard Baker.
Verse 1. Answer me in thy righteousness. Forgiveness is not inconsistent with truth or righteousness, and the pardon which in mercy God bestows upon the sinner is bestowed in justice to the well beloved Son who accepted and discharged the sinner's obligations. This is an infinitely precious truth, and the hearts of thousands in every age have been sustained and gladdened by it. A good old Christian woman in humble life so fully realized this, that when a revered servant of God asked her, as she lay on her dying pillow, the ground of her hope for eternity, she replied, with great composure, "I rely on the justice of God"; adding, however, when the reply excited surprise, "justice, not to me, but to my Substitute, in whom I trust." --Robert Macdonald, in "From Day to Day; or, Helpful Words for Christian Life", 1879.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1. Three threes.
- As to his devotions, -- prayers, supplications, requests.
- As to his success, -- hear, give ear, answer me.
- As to his argument, -- because thou art Jehovah, faithful, righteous.
Verse 1-2. A suitable prayer for a believer who has reason to suppose that he is suffering chastening for sin.