This is a maskil, meaning a psalm of instruction. There is much for us to learn here. The occasion for it was when David was “in the cave,” with that being doubtless the time when Saul was in hot pursuit of him with 3,000 men (1 Sam. 24). David was in a very low place, and this danger was compounded by the fact that he was in a very low condition, a very low way. But Scripture teaches us that “with the lowly is wisdom” (Prov. 11:2) Remember that the Lord has “respect unto the lowly” (Ps. 138:6)
“Maschil of David; A Prayer when he was in the cave. 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 shewed before him my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me. 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. I cried unto thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living. 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: The righteous shall compass me about; For thou shalt deal bountifully with me” (Psalm 142).
Summary of the Text
This is a maskil about affliction, and who does not need to learn the lessons here? This is a prayer lesson from a deep cave. David was in enough distress that he cried out to the Lord aloud (v. 1). He says this twice—he presented his supplication out loud. He did not pray about his troubles in a vague or general way—he poured them all out before the Lord (v. 2). He showed Jehovah all his troubles, but not because God needed the information. Rather it is because we need to see Him seeing it.
David reminds himself that when his spirit was overwhelmed . . . God knew the steps of his path (v. 3). And the path that God knows is the same path where his enemies have laid their snares (v. 3). His enemies brought the trial, but God was the one who sent it. David looked at his right hand, where his defender should have been, and there was no one there (v. 4). All had abandoned him. Nobody cared (v. 4). Bereft of friends, he cried out to the Lord (v. 5), the God who was his refuge and his portion in this life (v. 5). He pleads with God to hear his cry. His first argument is his despondency (v. 6). His second argument is that he is very weak (v. 6). Bring me out of this prison/cave in order that I might praise Your name (v. 7). And then he turns, as on a dime. He ends on a confident and jubilant note . . . from that same cave. This deserted one will at some point be surrounded by righteous men (v. 7). And why? Because God is going to deal bountifully with him (v. 7).
Nobody Loves Me but My Mother
There is a pitiful blues lament from B.B. King that we might remember here. “Nobody loves me but my mother, and she could be jiving too.” This is the dilemma of the psalmist in vv. 4-5. He looks around for support from friends, and he sees that he doesn’t have any.
This is a common theme in Scripture. We should not be surprised that Job experienced it (Job 6:15). It was not technically true for Elijah, but it sure felt that way (Rom. 11:4). The apostle Paul knew what this terrible experience was like also. Demas had deserted him (2 Tim. 4:10). At his first defense, everyone was absent (2 Tim. 4:16). All of Paul’s friends in Asia had ditched him (2 Tim. 1:15).
And of course, the ultimate experience of this is seen in the passion of the Lord. The shepherd was struck, and all the sheep were scattered (Zech. 13:7). This is made more poignant in that Jesus saw that particular desertion coming (Matt. 26:31). Judas, who had been one of the twelve, betrayed Him with a kiss, a fact that Jesus noted (Luke 22:48). Peter, spokesman for the Twelve, and very loud in his professions of loyalty to the Lord, denied Him three times, and with curses (Mark 14:71). And at the final, fatal moment, Jesus turned and looked at him (Luke 22:61).
“I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: They that did see me without fled from me.”
Psalm 31:11 (KJV)
It is the nature of true prayer to rise, to ascend. And if all you have left is prayer, it is no argument to say that you are in a very low place. Of course. That is why you should pray. We sometimes joke that from “down here” there is no place to go but up. While that may or may not be true about you personally, it is always true about a sincere and heartfelt prayer. There is no place for such prayer to go, but up.
True prayers don’t puddle on the floor. They don’t sink down like a heavy gas. They don’t clatter when you drop them. So despite the sensations of despondency you are feeling, God’s promise remains true. He will never leave nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5).
Envisioning the End
There are two sorts of imagining. One is the more common of the two, and can best be described as daydreaming. The second kind of imagining is that which sees Christ with the eye of faith. And when you see Christ, you see everything that comes with Him. When Christ delivers, He delivers in real time, in history. And so, when David lifted up his eyes at the end of the psalm, his eyes following his prayer, what did he see? He saw, with the eye of faith, how this trouble was going to turn out. He had been deserted by his sunshine friends, but one of the things he foresaw is that he was going to be surrounded by a crowd of righteous men. These righteous men do exist. But in the moment of desertion, it will be a temptation to say there are no righteous men. There are no true friends. But this is a lie. It is accurate to say that there are no true friends here, but there are true friends. Remember, David. Remember Jonathan, one of the truest friends in all of Scripture.
And so remember that you can feel friendless when friends let you down, as was the experience of David here. But you can also experience that sense of friendlessness when you are locked up in that solitary confinement of a painful illness, or because you very much want to be married, or because you are unemployed. The application that can be taken from this psalm is not limited to those times when a King Ahab or the Grand Inquisitor are trying to kill you.
And so regardless of the affliction, we all have a friend who is even truer than Jonathan was to David. When we walk in the faith of Abraham we find that we have become friends with the Friend of Abraham (Jas. 2:23). And the only way a sinner can be a friend of God as Abraham was is if he sees the Christ that Abraham saw.