Psalm 143 – Cave Man 2: Dependent on the Deity

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Today’s PassagePsalm 143

Unlike yesterday’s psalm, there’s no cave in Psalm 143. The only real context we’re given is that it’s by David, and therefore about some point in his life. But like yesterday’s psalm, it’s a prayer under pressure for God’s help and mercy. Perhaps it was written from a cave, or about a cave, as David says his enemy has driven him into “dark places” (143:3). But although it’s a psalm with very little light, it’s not a psalm devoid of hope.

David’s hope is not in his own goodness or competence. When he asks God to help him, he says, “Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous” (2). He can’t hope to appeal to God for help unless God overlooks his sins. And in a near word-for-word recapitulation of Psalm 142:3, he says, “Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed (literally, ‘faints’) within me,” then adds, “My heart is appalled within me” (143:4). His enemy has the upper hand, and David in himself doesn’t have the strength to rise to the challenge. If he can’t depend on a competent and forgiving God as the reality in which to ground his hope, he can’t depend on anything.

David’s desire for God is palpable. He says to God, “ I stretch out my hands to You; my soul longs for You, as a weary land” (143:6), and my mind immediately pictures a parched man in the desert, reaching for a distant oasis. David declares: “I trust in You…I take refuge in You” (143:8, 9). And in the midst of his pleas for aid, revival, rescue, he prays, “Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (143:10). He knows that he needs God not only for survival in this dark time and space. He needs to be taught the way the universe should be. He needs to be led by its creator.

And then we have verse twelve. Oh, dear. David prays: “And in Your lovingkindness, cut off my enemies and destroy all those who afflict my soul, for I am Your servant” (143:12). This is supposed to be an expression of God’s love? The destruction of David’s enemies? Love for David, maybe, but he wants no love from God for those who oppress him. Does the only way out of the darkness require the death of those keeping David in it? Is this suddenly a zero-sum game, a chess match where the only way to save the king is to put an end to the other side?

In David’s defense, everyone dies someday, so perhaps David is justified in wishing for his foes to reach their God-ordained end sooner rather than later. Still, as he comes out of disorientation into new orientation, it’s a problematic move.


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