Hear me speedily, O Lord . Here the direct supplication of Psalms 143:1 is taken up, and pressed. "Hear me, O Lord; and not only hear me, but that speedily. It is a time for haste" (comp. Psalms 141:1 ). My spirit faileth ; or, "fainteth" ( LXX ; ἐξέλιπε ). Hide not thy face from me (comp. Psalms 27:9 ; Psalms 69:17 ; Psalms 102:2 ). Lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit (see the comment on Psalms 28:1 ).
The soul's appeal to God.
The groundwork of the psalm is that of great affliction. The psalmist is in very sore trouble; the strongest expressions are used to convey the idea of complete outward disaster and inward dejection ( Psalms 143:3 , Psalms 143:4 ). There is only one respect in which things could be worse than they are—death itself, and the going down into the dark land of forgetfulness ( Psalms 143:7 ). But, as in the preceding psalm, his dire extremity is the very occasion for holy trust in the almighty power and unfailing righteousness of Jehovah. His refuge is in God. Here, indeed, is a strong Rock in which to hide in this dark night of trouble. We have—
I. HIS RELIANCE ON ALL THAT HE KNOWS OF God.
1. He remembers what God has been to him and has done/or him and for others in past days; what "doings," what "works," what deliverances he wrought in "the days of old" ( Psalms 143:5 ). "Thou hast been my help," etc. ( Psalms 27:9 ).
2. He relies on the known character of God; his loving-kindness ( Psalms 143:8 ); his faithfulness, his perfect trueness to his word of promise; his righteousness, his constant readiness to reward those who seek him and serve him, and his determination to punish the wicked. These recognized and steadfast attributes of God are to him a strong security. God cannot be inconsistent with himself.
II. HIS CONSCIOUSNESS OF INTEGRITY . The writer would not dare to make his appeal to the Holy One if he himself were living in sin. He knows well that the man who purposes to continue in rebellion against God, or in rejection of his offered mercy, has no ground on which to stand (see Psalms 66:18 ; Psalms 1:1-6 :16). Not, indeed, that he claims absolute inerrancy or perfection; he knows that such purity is beyond him ( Psalms 143:2 ); but at the same time, he is conscious of moral and spiritual integrity; he is God's servant ( Psalms 143:12 ). The purpose of his heart is toward God and the keeping of his commandments. He intends to walk uprightly and holily before God, to the full height of his strenuous endeavor. His God is the Lord, and no other lord shall have dominion over him.
III. THE FULNESS OF HIS APPEAL
1. He prays God to "quicken" him, to reanimate him, to fill his soul with courage and with hope, that he may play a brave and manly part.
3. He prays to be led forward in his rectitude, that he may fulfill all God's holy will concerning him ( Psalms 143:10 ). We cannot hope to rise higher than the spirit shown in this devout desire. It is right to wish and to ask, with all filial deference, for recovery from sickness, or for rescue from bondage, or for deliverance from anxiety or poverty; but it is a loftier and worthier aspiration to long to be led by the good Spirit of God into "the land of uprightness," into a state of lull acquiescence with the will of God, into a spiritual condition in which the doing or the bearing of the will of God is the supreme aim and endeavor of the soul.
IV. HIS EARNESTNESS . ( Psalms 143:6-8 .) There is every indication here of great earnestness of spirit. His soul thirsts for God's interposition as a parched land for water; he cries for a speedy response to his appeal; he yearns to hear God's loving-kindness "in the morning," and "lifts up his soul" unto God. Everything is to the earnest. Lukewarmness is offensive to God, as we learn from the risen Savior. A spasmodic piety, a fitful enthusiasm, will accomplish nothing for ourselves or for the world. It is steadfast purpose and sustained devotion that rises to the high tablelands of exalted worth and abounding fruitfulness.
The cry of the overwhelmed spirit.
I. ITS CHARACTERISTICS .
1. How earnest it is! The psalmist was not in any light, indifferent, or formal spirit when he uttered this prayer. Its intensity is evident all the way through.
2. And believing . "In thy faithfulness answer me" ( Psalms 143:1 ). He believed the promises of God, and claims their fulfillment, expects that what God has promised he will make good. Such expectation is all too rare; and its rarity accounts for the many unanswered prayers over which we mourn.
3. And sincere . "And in thy righteousness" ( Psalms 143:1 ). If he had regarded iniquity in his heart, he could not thus have prayed, for he would have known that the Lord would not hear him; but he could appeal to him who was the righteous Searcher of all hearts, that with true heart he prayed. Hence he could appeal—to the righteousness of God, because "the righteous Lord loveth righteousness, and his countenance doth behold the upright."
4. Humble . ( Psalms 143:2 .) For whilst he could appeal to God to attest his innocence and sincerity of heart, that did not prove him to be faultless in the sight of God. St. Paul said, "I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified." And similar to this is the psalmist's confession here. He might be, and he was, innocent before men, and sincere in heart toward God; but yet there were many a trangression and fault and failure, the remembrance of which made him pray, "Enter not into judgment," etc. ( Psalms 143:2 ). Such were the characteristics of this prayer, and should be of all prayer—indeed, must be, if our prayers are to avail.
II. ITS COMPLAINT . The psalmist tells what his enemies had done against him ( Psalms 143:3 ).
1. They had persecuted his soul . He had, no doubt, some outward, present persecution in his thought; but in reading this psalm we may transfer his words to those spiritual persecutions which we often have to suffer at the hands of our great enemy; and, thus applied, the whole psalm answers to all too frequent experience of the people of God today. For the enemy doth by all manner of temptation persecute our soul—he suggests doubt, he stirs up evil thoughts, he assails our faith, he darkens our mind, and in every way seeks to loosen our hold on God.
2. And some have to confess , " He hath smitten my life down to the ground ." There have been periods in the history of God's servants—there were in David's—when the Divine life in them has been all but non-existent, when they could not pray, nor witness for God, nor give him praise, nor render any service of a spiritual kind. They have been terrible seasons—the enemy hath come in like a flood, and the overwhelmed ones were unable to pray that "the Spirit of the Lord would lift up a standard against him."
3. And then, in consequence, there has been the "dwelling in darkness , as those that have been long dead ." Oh, the darkness of that time! it was as the gloom of the grave. The soul that the enemy hath so smitten is conscious of his awful loss; that the life of God in him is seemingly gone; and he seems abandoned to the utter corruption of sin! No wonder that his spirit is overwhelmed and his heart desolate ( Psalms 143:4 ). How could it be otherwise? He is simply and utterly miserable.
III. THE COMING OF RELIEF .
1. God leads him to remember the days of old . To hunger after those blessed times when God came to his soul, and was his Helper and Deliverer. Full of help are memories like these.
2. Then to " meditate on all thy works ." To see the wisdom, power, and love displayed in them, and so to hope that for him, too, there should be wrought some gracious work of God. As he thus mused, the fire of love and desire and faith would begin to burn, and then his musing thought would take form and action; for:
3. He would stretch forth his hands unto God . His soul was athirst for God, and now forth go his hands in prayer. Yes, relief was coming; for there are its near harbingers, everywhere and always.
IV. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN TAKEN BY FORCE . ( Psalms 143:7-12 .) What a crowd and rush of prayers, protestations, cries, and pleadings, these verses contain! One after another they come, in hot haste and eagerness that will take no denial. It is a very besiegement of the throne of grace. But the chief burden of all is, not for deliverance from enemies, but for a closer knowledge of God; the consciousness of his favor, the speedy hearing of his loving-kindness; the being made to know the way wherein God would have him walk. Then come prayers that God would teach, would lead, would quicken, and would bring his soul out of trouble. There is prayer for deliverance from calamities; but the great longing is after the doing of God's will, and the quickening of his soul in righteousness. Prayer helps him in attaining that submissiveness of will which is essential to his gaining that unspeakable blessing on which his heart is set. And in proportion as a man is taught of God, this is the supreme desire of his soul. If he gains this, it matters not much whether the outward calamities go or stay. If God's face shines upon him, man's may frown as it will. He has heaven within him, even though hell be outside of and all around him. What can any enemy do unto him, since God is on his side? He has won the kingdom of heaven, and no man can take it from him. Blessed is any sorrow when such reaction as this psalm reveals follows from it ] The light affliction which was for the moment is now working out the "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." The travail of his soul has issued in the glorious birth of the life of the love of God. And this is ever God's intent in all our sorrows; for this he lets the enemy smite our soul down to the ground, and make us dwell in darkness. He desires that we should flee unto him to hide us. And, blessed be his Name! he ever will; and far more than that will he do.—S.C.
Becoming like unto them that go down into the pit;
Such was the psalmist's horrible dread, the extreme terror of his soul.
I. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN ? The dead were they who went down into the pit.
1. The expression is one of those which mark the intense repulsion with which the Old Testament saints regarded death . Listen to David's piteous cry, "Oh, spare me that I may recover strength," etc. ( Psalms 39:1-13 .; cf. also Psalms 88:1-7 , Psalms 88:10-12 ; Psalms 115:16-18 ; and passim throughout the Old Testament). They regarded the grave with feelings of the deepest gloom—as a dark pit, a prison with bars ( Job 17:16 ). See also Hezekiah's entreaty that he might not die ( Isaiah 38:1-22 .). The grave was the land of destruction, of darkness, where they could not praise God nor enjoy his favor; where they would be utterly forgotten; and whence they should never return. Because of its dread associations, our translators have often rendered the Hebrew word into our word "hell," as in the well-known passage, "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all," etc. But it is the same word as is used by Jacob when he says, "Ye will bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave ." The souls of the pious Jews shrank from death with an unutterable repulsion; and hence, when the psalmist here would express the extremity of spiritual distress, he describes it as becoming "like unto them that go down into the pit." Life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel; but those ancient saints had not that light. Contrast St. Paul's courageous "I am ready to be offered up," and the mournful moan of the psalmist, "Oh, spare me!" the joy and hope of the gospel with the gloom of the Old Testament (cf. Job 14:1-22 . with John 14:1-31 . and the whole of the New Testament).
2. But , wherefore—so it will at once be asked—was this hope withheld from the psalmists and such as they? And we reply that probably one reason was that they might learn, as they did learn, to put all their trust and find all their delight in God. He was to be everything to them; their God and their exceeding Joy; and, when this was so, they could leave to him to determine what their future should be. They were to have, and to teach us to have, a present salvation, and to trust in God for all the rest. And this, in our best moments, is what we do. It is not the thought of the future life that most of all influences the true believer, but the present realization of God . If he has that, it is well with him; but without that, even the hope of the future life waxes dim. What the soul of man wants is a salvation here and now; and it is what we may have, and many have, and all should have, and then the soul will be at rest as to all the future may bring. And to teach this was, we think, one of the reasons why the clear promise of the future life which we enjoy was not given to them. But to return to the text, we inquire—
II. WHENCE SUCH DISTRESS OF SOUL AS THE TEXT INDICATES ARISES ?
1. Sometimes it is owing to the presence of earthly sorrow , and the cruelty of men . Such was the case, evidently, with the writer of this psalm. "Man's inhumanity to man" will not seldom smite the "soul down to the ground," and make the spirit faint. It has done such cruel and cursed work again and again.
2. Delayed answers to prayer . How frequently do these psalms show the terrible strain upon the faith of God's people which such delayed answers to their prayers has caused ( Psalms 22:2 ; Psalms 88:9 , and parallels)!
3. The sense of sin . (See Psalms 32:1-11 ; Psalms 51:1-19 .; and the penitential psalms generally; also the publican's prayer, "God be merciful," etc.!) Where no relief comes, sometimes, as in the case of Saul and Judas, men have rushed to self-destruction. The agony of this sense of sin is to the soul like that of broken bones to the body ( Psalms 51:8 ). Think of what the prodigal's home-journey must have been, what bitter thoughts must have filled his mind. The conviction of sin has no comfort in itself, though it should lead thereto.
4. And sometimes God lets his beloved ones fall into such deep depression . See our blessed Lord in Gethsemane, and in the darkness on the cross. He knows what such soul-agony means; in this, as in all points, he has been tried like as we are.
III. WHEREFORE IS IT PERMITTED ?
1. For the trial and so the strengthening of trust in God . See the Syro-phoenician woman—how her faith was tried! But she stood the test, as the Lord knew she would; and she rose thereafter and because of it to a glorious height of faith, such as even made the Lord himself to marvel, and to pronounce on her a benediction which otherwise she would never have gained. Hence it is that St. James bids us count it all joy when we fall into such trials. They are the opportunity for the soul's winning the high prizes of the kingdom of God; and when God sends to us such trials, he is but entering us for the glorious contest. Therefore count it all joy!
2. For the working in us of a holy hatred of sin . That is the reason of the Holy Spirit's convicting work. Burnt children dread the fire; therefore God lets sin burs the sinner.
3. For the helping of others . He who endures trial witnesses for God as none other can. He declares in the face of an unbelieving world—not to say Church—that God's grace is sufficient, and that therewith he can do and bear all things. That testimony is needed, and is fruitful of blessing. It was thus that always and everywhere the blood of the martyrs has been the seed of the Church. What heart-cheer it brings to tempted yet timid souls! See to it that we thus witness for God. It was thus our Lord witnessed.
IV. WHENCE RELIEF COMES . "Hide not thy face from me"—so the psalmist prays, and thus plainly declares that what would certainly bring him relief would be the face of God shining upon him. When God thus blesses his servants, then it is that he gives them quietness, and none then can make trouble ( Job 34:29 ); for then, man may be as cruel as he will, the specific answers to our prayers may be delayed as long as God sees fit, the sense of sin will be swallowed up in the certainty of God's pardoning love, and we are able to say, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him!"
1. Can God ' s face shine upon us? Not if we are refusing to let go our hold of sin. If we will not renounce that, God's face cannot shine upon us. Therefore, be now, at once, reconciled to God.
2. Will it shine upon us? Yes, it ever does; though, as with the sun, clouds may obscure its brightness. We patiently wait till the clouds clear. That is what the believer has to do—"wait patiently for him."—S.C.
A complaint and a prayer.
This the last of the penitential psalms. The authorship and occasion of it uncertain. Pervaded by a deep tone of sorrow and anguish and a deep sense of sin. Roughly divided, the first part ( Psalms 143:1-6 ) contains the complaint ; and the second ( Psalms 143:7-12 ), the prayer founded on that complaint.
I. THE COMPLAINT .
1. His enemies overwhelmed with a sense of desolation . ( Psalms 143:3 , Psalms 143:4 .) "His life was smitten down;" he dwelt as in the darkness of death; his heart was desolate. No friend was left; no protection from the cruel injustice of men. He was as if forsaken of God. All this was the means of revealing the sinfulness and misery of his own heart.
2. The contrast between his past and present experience . ( Psalms 143:5 .) This embittered his anguish and added to the sense of his desolation.
3. He stands as one imploring help . ( Psalms 143:6 .) But to whom, as yet, help has not come. As parched land thirsts for rain, so he pants for the help of God.
II. THE PRAYER . The petitions in Psalms 143:7-12 may be thus grouped:
4. The ground of the several petitions is the personal relation of the psalmist to God . "Thou art my God;" "In thee have I trusted;" "I am thy servant;" etc. Man is God's child. These the strongest appeals that could be made.—S.