Psalm 143/Fifteenth Decade of Psalms

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When Sinners Withstand the Wicked

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This psalm is offered up to God in a time of great distress. We do not know if it is from the time of Saul’s persecution, or from Absalom’s rebellion, or from some other time. Regardless, the need is pressing and great, and David is presenting his prayers to God with great urgency.

The Text

“A Psalm of David. Hear my prayer, O Lord, Give ear to my supplications: In thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness. And enter not into judgment with thy servant: For in thy sight shall no man living be justified. For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; He hath smitten my life down to the ground; He hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead. Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; My heart within me is desolate. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands. I stretch forth my hands unto thee: My soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah. Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit faileth: Hide not thy face from me, Lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit. Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; For in thee do I trust: Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; For I lift up my soul unto thee. Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me. Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: Thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness. Quicken me, O Lord, for thy name’s sake: For thy righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble. And of thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul: For I am thy servant” (Psalm 143).

Summary of the Text

The psalm is from the pen of David. He begins with the plea that his prayers and supplications be heard (v. 1). He makes the request on the strength of God’s faithfulness, God’s righteousness (v. 1). David is taking a stand against his persecuting enemies, but he well knows that if God wanted to get him, he could not be justified (v. 2). The enemy is persecuting his soul, and has struck his life to the ground. He has been made to dwell in darkness, like a long-dead carcass (v. 3). David’s spirit is overwhelmed; his heart is desolate (v. 4). It was not always this way—David can remember when times were better. He thinks about that. Why could not God do that again? (v. 5). So he stretches out his hands to God, pleading with Him (v. 6). His soul is like cracked earth, parched and dry (v. 6). Pause and reflect. Think about this. Selah. David urges God to hurry up because he can feel his spirit failing. He does not want to go down to the pit (v. 7). He prays for a hesed-deliverance, and wants to walk uprightly (v. 8). He hides in God, seeking deliverance from God (v. 9). He prays that God teach him to do God’s will, which is distinct from merely knowing it (v. 10). That will is necessarily good because God’s Spirit is of course good (v. 10). He prays that God would enliven him. And the basis of the prayer to deliver his soul from trouble is for the Lord’s name’s sake (v. 11), for His righteousness’ sake (v. 11). He concludes the prayer with the desire that God (in His mercy) cut off David’s enemies, destroying all those who afflict his soul (v. 12). For David is His servant (v. 12).

My Servant David

This psalm concludes with David entering his final plea—“for I am thy servant.” To be a servant of God is a great honor, and like all such honors, it is not one for us to take upon ourselves. We do not get to appoint ourselves to this station, even if outsiders consider it to be a lowly station. And David certainly does not take such an honor upon himself.

When David wanted to build the Temple, and Nathan the prophet comes back to countermand what he had earlier approved, this is how that passage begins. “And it came to pass that night, that the word of the Lord came unto Nathan, saying, Go and tell my servant David, thus saith the Lord, shalt thou build me an house for me to dwell in?” (2 Samuel 7:4–5, cf. 8). The Lord tells David no regarding the Temple, but then gives him a staggering promise instead. Someone descended from David will reign on the throne of David forever (v. 13). It is after this that David dares to call himself God’s servant (vv. 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29), and he does so again and again.

“For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, Than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.”

Psalm 84:10 (KJV)

Before Man, Before God

The basic plea of this psalm is for God to rise up and defend. But there is an interesting comment made right near the beginning of the psalm. “And enter not into judgment with thy servant: For in thy sight shall no man living be justified” (Psalm 143:2). He is asking God to defend, and he begins by asking God not to attack.

There is righteousness before men, and there is righteousness before God. It is possible and quite biblical for a man to claim righteousness over against other men. The charges and accusations they make are false. They are liars. “False witnesses did rise up; They laid to my charge things that I knew not” (Psalm 35:11). At the same time, in a different respect, what would happen if God took over the prosecution? “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (Psalm 130:3). These two postures are fully consistent.

This is the set up when sinners are used by God to withstand the wicked. Those of us who are involved in the controversies of the day should recognize that if our enemies knew just a fraction of what God knows about us, it would be all over. But they don’t, and He’s not telling.

As is the common pattern, they are not shy about attacking us with our sins. But they are not attacking us for our sins. They have a true affinity for sin. The thing that bothers them about sinners in the congregation of the righteous is the prospect and promise of repentance and forgiveness.

But how is that possible?

Righteous Forgiveness

Why is God not telling our foes about how messed up we are? There is something very strange in this psalm. David is praying for deliverance here, and in the first verse, he is asking for it on the basis of God’s faithfulness, God’s righteousness. He is not asking for it on the basis of His mercy, but rather His righteousness. How can a sinner ask for anything remotely connected with righteousness? And he does it again in v. 11—“for thy righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble.”

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:9 (KJV)

This is a great mystery, and the only possible solution to it is found in the blood of Christ’s cross. That is the only place where you could ever find a righteous forgiveness. God intends to be just and the one who justifies (Rom. 3:26). 

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