Saturday, November 16, 2013

Notes on the Psalms – Psalm 143

Psalm 143 is a beautiful prayer in which the psalmist, identified as David, pours out his heart to God in the midst of his troubles. We'll examine the psalm verse by verse, focusing especially on the progression of its ideas and the nuances of its Hebrew.

David begins with a plea: “Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my supplications in Your faithfulness; answer me in Your righteousness” (verse 1). There are three requests here: hear, give ear, and answer, in Hebrew, shâma‛, 'âzan, and ‛ânâh. The first, shâma‛, suggests a favorable hearing. David longs for God to grant his prayer. He also wants God to hear or listen to, âzan, his supplications or specific requests. He hopes that God will respond to him, ‛ânâh. Why would God do this? David understands that God is faithful ('ĕmûnâh – steady, trustworthy) and righteous (tsedâqâh – just). God is good in every sense of the word, and David asks God to apply that goodness to him by listening to his prayers and responding favorably.

David's plea continues in verse 2: “Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for no one living is righteous before You.” David is not asking for God's favor based on his own merits. In fact, he is well aware that he is far from perfect. He, like everyone else, is a sinner, and he is humble enough to acknowledge that he is not righteous before God. He begs God not to pass a sentence on him, not to give the guilty verdict he knows he deserves. 

In verse 3, David begins explaining his situation to God: “For the enemy has pursued me, crushing my life to the ground, making me sit in darkness like those long dead.” Someone who hates David is chasing after him (Hebrew râdaph – persecute, harass, hunt). He is on the run, and he knows that his enemy is bent on shattering his life into small pieces (Hebrew dâkâ' - destroy, oppress, smite) and casting him to the ground. He is dwelling in darkness, and he feels as though he is hardly alive. 

This situation is taking its toll on David. “Therefore my spirit faints within me;” he says, “my heart within me is appalled” (verse 4). The Hebrew word for “faints” is ‛âṭaph, which literally means to be shrouded or to languish. David is wrapped in darkness and pain. He is weakening, fading away. He is overwhelmed. His heart is appalled, or in Hebrew, shâmêm, desolate, stunned, stupefied, devastated. He is tired of the whole situation and perhaps feels like he could just give up and lie down. 

But he doesn't. Instead, he turns to God. He remembers what God has down in the past: “I remember the days of old, I think about all Your deeds, I meditate on the works of Your hands” (verse 5). David knows that God has performed some amazing deeds for His people. David focuses on those. He remembers (Hebrew zâkar – to call to mind but also to mention). He thinks carefully (Hebrew hâgâh – to muse, meditate, imagine, and ponder but also to speak aloud). He meditates (Hebrew śı̂yach – to ponder, consider, and muse, especially out loud in conversation). David, then, isn't simply sitting silently and allowing God's past deeds to flit through his mind. He is proclaiming them to his companions and discussing them with those around him. David is making every effort to prevent the darkness from overtaking him. 

Further, he expresses his longing for God. “I stretch out my hands to You; my soul thirsts for You like a parched land” (verse 6). He opens his arms to God like a child to a parent, presenting himself vulnerable and needy but trusting. He feels dry and parched, but he knows that only God can quench his thirst. So he turns to God and reaches for Him. 

David pleads with God again: “Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide Your face from me, or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit” (verse 7). He senses that his life and breath are wasting away, expiring (Hebrew kâlâh). God seems far away, hidden and absent, but David begs Him to come close lest he drift down into the ultimate darkness. Only God can sustain him by coming close, lifting him up, and holding him tightly. 

“Let me hear of Your steadfast love in the morning,” David continues, “for in You I put my trust. Teach me the way I should go, for to You I lift up my soul” (verse 8). David longs for God's love, mercy, and faithfulness (Hebrew chêsêd). He wants to be able to hear it, in Hebrew shâma‛, which also means to understand and obey. David wants to know God's love intimately, personally. He wants it to penetrate him, for he trusts completely in God. The Hebrew word for trust is bâṭach, which also means to be confident and bold. David can be bold in his requests to God. He can be bold in his longings and in his prayers because he believes that God loves him. He wants to know and follow God's path, and he lifts up his soul to the Lord, offering Him everything he is and has to the very depths of his being (Hebrew nephesh – soul but also life, being, desire, passion, emotion, mind, will, self, character). This is a complete surrender. 

David's plea continues in the next two verses: “Save me, O Lord, from my enemies; I have fled to You for refuge. Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God. Let Your good spirit lead me on a level path” (verses 9-10). David now remembers his danger and asks God to rescue him from his threatening enemies. God is his only refuge, his only security, the only place he can hide. That being said, David is eager to fulfill God's will. Even in his fear, his focus remains on God's plan for him. The Hebrew word for will is râtsôn, which can also mean pleasure or delight. David wants God to take delight in him. He wants to please God, even in the face of his enemies, and therefore, he asks God to guide him, to lead him on a secure way, to set him on solid land, on firm ground. God is his priority. While he asks for deliverance from his enemies, he is determined to grow in his relationship with God above all. 

In the next verse, David once again pleads for a rescue. “For Your name's sake, O Lord, preserve my life,” he begins (verse 11). Not for my sake, he suggests, for I am a sinner, but for the sake of WhoYou are, God. Remember that in the Bible, a name is not just an identifying word but an indicator of character and honor. God will preserve David because of Who He is, the all-powerful, all-loving God. “In Your righteousness, bring me out of trouble,” David says next. Again, because God is righteous, He will help David. God is all love, and loving His child, He will draw him out of his distress (Hebrew tsârâh). 

The psalm ends with a final request: “In Your steadfast love cut off my enemies, and destroy all my adversaries, for I am Your servant” (verse 12). David asks God to remove his enemies from the picture, to annihilate them, to exterminate them, to blot them out. This seems pretty harsh, but remember that David is in mortal danger from these enemies, and they will not let up. David probably feels like he has no other choice. He ends with what is essentially a promise to God. He is God's servant. He submits to God and obeys Him. The focus is back on God and on David's relationship with Him. David wants only God's will.

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