Bible Commentary: Psalm 142

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Psalm 142

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Psalm 142 is a maskil, an instructive psalm or "contemplation" (NKJV), the third prayer in the sequence of five in which David asks for deliverance from persecutors. The occasion here, as the title notes, is "when he was in the cave." This could refer to either of two episodes when David fled from King Saul. One was into the cave at Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1, 1 Samuel 22:4), 16 miles southwest of Jerusalem, and the other was into the cave at En Gedi (1 Samuel 24:1-22), the oasis near the Dead Sea . Another psalm is linked with the episode at En Gedi (Psalm 57). And that episode does not fit the sense of abject loneliness and abandonment described in Psalm 142. It appears far more likely that David's time at Adullam is the subject of this psalm, as we will see. This psalm was earlier discussed with the biblical account of that period (see the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on 1 Samuel 22:1-5; Psalm 142; 1 Chronicles 12:8-18).

David desperately pours out his heart to God. As if the secret plotting against him were not enough, he now feels alone and forsaken, lamenting that there is no one at his right hand—that no one acknowledges him and no one cares about him (verse 4). The Nelson Study Bible comments: "With enemies on every path, David screams to God that he is defenseless. The armed soldier in ancient Israel probably would have had his spear or sword in his right hand and his shield in his left. The shield of one man would protect the right side of his neighbor. David cries that there is no one on his right side" (note on verses 3-5). The Expositor's Bible Commentary adds, "The 'right' signifies the place where one's witness or legal council stood (cf. Psalm 16:8; Psalm 109:31; Psalm 110:5; Psalm 121:5)" (note on verses 3c-4).

This situation might not at first glance seem to match the details of David's experience at Adullam, for 1 Samuel 22 says that his family gathered to him there and that a large group of malcontents soon banded together there under his leadership—a formidable force of 400 men that later surged to 600, with this base camp being referred to in 1 Chronicles 12 as a stronghold. Yet realize that David first arrived there by himself. We should therefore understand Psalm 142 as describing his feelings between the first and second sentences of 1 Samuel 22:1—before his family and others showed up, when he was all alone.

Of course, David understood that he was not totally alone. With no other human being to lean on, David still has Someone to turn to. He cries out to God, "You are my refuge" (Psalm 142:5; compare Psalm 46) and "my portion in the land of the living" (Psalm 142:5). Thus, even in his despair as a fugitive hiding out in a cave, David still views God as His share in life, which he is still blessed to be living.

Moreover, David has faith that God will send help and abundance his way, including a support crowd (verse 7). How wonderful it is to know that this is just what happened not long after David prayed his heartfelt prayer. On top of that, he eventually became the king of Israel. And more important still, he will ultimately share possession of the universe as a divine king in God's eternal royal family—as will all of us who continue to follow God.