Title. Maschil of David. This Maschil is written for our instruction. It teaches us principally by example how to order our prayer in times of distress. Such instruction is among the most needful, practical, and effectual parts of our spiritual education. He who has learned how to pray has been taught the most useful of the arts and sciences. The disciples said unto the Son of David, "Lord, teach, us to pray"; and here David gives us a valuable lesson by recording his own experience as to supplication from beneath a cloud.
A Prayer when he was in the cave. He was in one of his many lurking places, either Engedi, Adullam, or some other lone cavern wherein he could conceal himself from Saul and his blood hounds. Caves make good closets for prayer; their gloom and solitude are helpful to the exercise of devotion. Had David prayed as much in his palace as he did in his cave, he might never have fallen into the act which brought such misery upon his later days.
Subject. There can be little doubt that this song dates from the days when Saul was sorely persecuting David, and David himself was in soul trouble, probably produced by that weakness of faith which led him to associate with heathen princes. His fortunes were evidently at their lowest, and, what was worse, his repute had fearfully fallen; yet he displayed a true faith in God, to whom he made known his pressing sorrows. The gloom of the cave is over the psalm, and yet as if standing at the mouth of it the prophet poet sees a bright light a little beyond.
Verse 1. I cried unto the LORD with my voice. It was a cry of such anguish that he remembers it long after, and makes a record of it. In the loneliness of the cave he could use his voice as much as he pleased; and therefore he made its gloomy vaults echo with his appeals to heaven. When there was no soul in the cavern seeking his blood, David with all his soul was engaged in seeking his God. He felt it a relief to his heart to use his voice in his pleadings with Jehovah. There was a voice in his prayer when he used his voice for prayer: it was not vox et praeterea nihil. It was a prayer vivo corde as well as viv voce.
With my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication. He dwells upon the fact that he spoke aloud in prayer; it was evidently well impressed upon his memory, hence he doubles the word and says, "with my voice; with my voice." It is well when our supplications are such that we find pleasure in looking back upon them. He that is cheered by the memory of his prayers will pray again. See how the good man's appeal was to Jehovah only: he did not go round about to men, but he ran straight forward to Jehovah, his God. What true wisdom is here! Consider how the Psalmist's prayer grew into shape as he proceeded with it. Its first poured out his natural longings, -- "I cried"; and then he gathered up all his wits and arranged his thoughts, -- "I made supplication." True prayers may differ in their diction, but not in their direction: an impromptu cry and a preconceived supplication must alike ascend towards the one prayer hearing God, and he will accept each of them with equal readiness. The intense personality of the prayer is noteworthy: no doubt the Psalmist was glad of the prayers of others, but he was not content to be silent himself. See how everything is in the first person, -- "I cried with my voice; with my voice did I make my supplication." It is good to pray in the plural -- "Our Father", but in times of trouble we shall feel forced to change our note into "Let this cup pass from me."
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Title. He calls this prayer Maschil, "a psalm of instruction", because of the good lessons he had himself learned in the cave, learned on his knees, and so learned that he desired to teach others. --Matthew Henry.
Title. A prayer when he was in the cave. Every part of this psalm shows the propriety of its inscription or title. He expressly mentions his being in a place where he was entirely shut up, where he saw no possible method of escaping, as having no friends that dared to own him and appear for his deliverance, and when every one seemed to desert him, and to have abandoned all care of his safety and life. This he pathetically describes, and in such terms as cannot fail to move the tender affections of every one who considers them. On the first sense of his danger, shut up in a cave, surrounded by three thousand chosen soldiers, closely observed by a watchful enemy who would spare no art or pains to apprehend him, he seems almost to have despaired of himself, and declares that his spirit is quite overwhelmed with the greatness of his distress. At length, recollecting his principles, and the promises that God had made him, he earnestly supplicates the protection of God, and assures himself that he should yet praise God for his deliverance, and that good men should share his joy, and encompass the altar of God with thanksgiving for the mercy that he had shown him. --Samuel Chandler.
Title. "The cave." Leaving our horses in charge of some Arabs, and taking one for our guide, we started for the cave now known as Mughret Khureitn, which is believed to be the cave Adullam, having a fearful gorge below, gigantic cliffs above, and the path winding along a narrow shelf of the rock. At length, from a great rock hanging on the edge of the shelf, we entered by a long leap a low window which opened into the perpendicular face of the cliff. We were then within the traditional hold of David, and, creeping half doubled through a narrow crevice for a few rods, we stood beneath the dark vault of the first grand chamber of this mysterious and oppressive cavern, 1 Samuel 22:1-2 2 Samuel 23:13-17 . Our whole collection of lights did little more than make the damp darkness visible. After groping about as long as we had time to spare, we returned to the light of day, fully convinced that, with David and his lion hearted followers inside, all the strength of Israel under Saul could not have forced an entrance -- would not have even attempted it. --William M. Thompson.
Verse 1. I cried unto the LORD. Thou hast posted me over to no deputy for the hearing of my prayer, neither dost thou require that I should bring a spokesman for the presenting of it; but thou hast commanded me to come myself, and to come to thee thyself. --Sir Richard Baker on the Lord's Prayer.
Verse 1. With my voice. The Lord needs not the tongue to be an interpreter between him and the hearts of his children. He that hears without ears can interpret prayers though not uttered by the tongue. Our desires are cries in the ears of the Lord of hosts. The vehemency of the affections may sometimes cause the outcrying of the voice; but alas! Without this it is but a tinkling cymbal ... There is a use of words in prayer, to excite, and convey, and give vent to, affection: Hosea 14:2 , "Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously." The prophet doth not only prescribe that they should take affections, but take with them words. -- Thomas Manton.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- A vivid memory -- of what he did, and how, and when.
- A public declaration; from which we infer that his prayer cheered him, brought him succour in trouble, and deliverance out of it.
- A reasonable inference: he prays again.
- Special seasons for prayer: times of complaint and trouble.
- Special prayer on such occasions; "I cried", "I make my supplication", "I poured out my complaint", "I showed before him my trouble." Spread the whole case before God, as Hezekiah did the letter from Sennacherib.