Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Psalm 143 – David’s refusal to despair

The way to read this article is that the BLUE underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV84, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note/What we have learnt/can learn".

Psalm 143

A psalm of David.

1 O LORD, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief. [David petitioned God to hear his prayer, to listen to his cry for mercy. David asked God to come to his relief, in His faithfulness and righteousness.]
2 Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you. [David was pleading to God not to judge him or to put off judging him, for no one living is righteous before God; no matter how righteous David might be. In humility, he appealed to God.

As a side, now is it in OT time, none was righteous because of the damnation from the consequence of the Original Sin, that David said what he said, or is it  even in NT time, this is still valid, that none is (actively) righteous all the time, and so, we too, should be pleading to God as David did? My inclination is that despite we as believers have the imputed righteousness from our entry into salvation, we can be unrighteous (in the active sense), and God is at liberty to judge (NOT necessarily condemned us to Hell) henceforth or mark us for judgment at a later date; Hebrews 10:26-29 reads, " 26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?"]

3 The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in darkness
like those long dead. [David was petitioning God because his enemy was pursuing him, they crushed him to the ground; they made him dwell in darkness like those long dead {last bit, was probably referring to his having to be on the run, a fugitive, not able to remain in touch with those who knew him}.

This verse can also be interpreted as David's enemy was causing David to go into an oppressed and depressed state.]
4 So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed. [Because of his enemies {probably strong ones} were against him, David said to God that his spirit grew faint within him, and he was disheartened {but not in despair}.

David acknowledged that the attacks of the enemy had affected him.  Such is the positive and first thing to do, if we want to stand prevailing.  From it we know that we need help, and help from God.]
5 I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done. [In order not to be in despair, David remembered the former days where he had witnessed or knew God‘s faithfulness and righteousness at work. David meditated on God’s works and considered what God had done, in the past. Recounting the past faithfulness of God is a good way to “keep one’s head above the water”.]
6 I spread out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. [David told God his soul thirsted for Him like a parched land, even as he spread out his hands to God. David expressed that he needed God badly.]
7 Answer me quickly, O LORD;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit. [David pleaded for God to answer him quickly, saying that his spirit was failing. He beseeched God not to hide His face from him or he would be like those who go down the pit, for he was growing weaker and weaker.

Now, the picture painted can be that David was expressing that it was possible that he might die if God did NOT answer him quickly, or it could be that he was expressing if God did NOT answer him quickly, he might go into depression; pit being the metaphor for "in depression".]
8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul. [Perhaps, it was night time at that moment, and David asked that God not to delay, but to let him have His word of His unfailing love by the morning {or it was just simply an expression for an answer was needed without delay}, for his trust was in God. David asked God to show him the way he should go, for, to God, David was entrusting his soul.]
9 Rescue me from my enemies, O LORD,
for I hide myself in you. [What David was saying was that he regarded the LORD as his refuge. He might not run into any fortress, he believed he was already hiding in the LORD, and so, he asked of the LORD to protect him from his enemies.]
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground. [David asked God to teach him to do His will, for to David, the LORD was his God, one who could NOT be wrong, only right, only good. To David, such one’s will, he would do. David trusted God to lead him on level ground, meaning David trusted if he followed the ways and will of God, he would NOT be overwhelmed.

Level ground was to paint the picture of the setting where one does NOT get hit repeatedly so much so that one would get overwhelmed.  On "level ground", sometimes, one can still trip and fall, but it would NOT be as frequent and overwhelming as one on "terraneous ground" (undulating, rocky ground).  A believer's life is NOT expected to be trouble-free.]
11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble. [Because David’s declaration that the righteous LORD was his God, David was indicating it would not reflect well on the name of the LORD should his life be lost or that he would be "paralyzed" (as would be the case if he went down the pit of depression). Concerned with the name of the LORD, David called for the LORD to preserve his life, and to come to bring him out of trouble, in His righteousness. 

The life, Jesus came to give for a believer, is that of abundant life (John 10:10); not a paralyzed life or a utterly defeated life; people in depression often live that way - defeated and paralyzed.]
12 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant. [David appealed to God’s unfailing love, calling for God to come to silence his enemies; to destroy all his foes. David said he was appealing on the ground that he was the LORD’s servant.

David could have appealed on other grounds, but he chose to appeal on the ground that he was the LORD's servant; pointing to his humility.]

What we should have learnt:

This psalm spoke about David’s refusal to be abandoned to despair. Clearly, Scripture did not promise a “smooth and swell” life for a believer. Instead, we read of believers being still in the world {Jesus, when praying, said that He was NOT asking the Father to take His disciples out of the world (John 17:15)}, although not of the world, and the need for us to persevere. For example, the Apostle Paul even wrote like this:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Cor 4:8-9).

The sooner we realize this, the better; and we have better get to know how we are to deal with challenges, the fallen world throws at us, saints. Jesus said this (John 16:33) - "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."   

King David of the OT, had his fair share of challenges, and here, in this psalm, I believe, David was quite desperate, yet he refused to despair, and had sought the LORD for help. Psalm 143 was David’s petitioning for God’s help in his dire straits (great distress). Some believed that this psalm spoke of the time King David had to run from his own son, Absalom who usurped his throne, but whether it was precisely that occasion or not, is not crucial. These are some of the things we can learn from David’s petition:

1. The most basic way to petition to God is to pray (v1). We must pray, we cannot say, “God can see, and God knows, if He wants, He will do something; if nothing is already happening, it is because He does not want to do anything!” Scripture exhorts us to ask, so we ask; to pray, so we pray; and we are not to be a smart aleck, and refuse to do so. King Ahaz of Judah, for example, was stubborn and refused to ask when the LORD told him to ask {for a sign} (Isaiah 7:10-13). It is not that we get everything we ask for, but indeed, we have to ask; the Apostle James said in James 4:2 that we do not have, because we do not ask.

As a side, now, faithfulness of God does NOT equate God MUST, regardless.  If it were God MUST, really there was no need for David or anyone to pray or do anything.

2. Ask according to who God is, and according to His ways (v1). For example, one cannot ask God to do an unrighteous thing; for example, to help you to win the heart of someone’s wife. Ps 89:14 is a scripture I meditate often, and it says, “Justice and righteousness are the foundation of your {His} throne; love and faithfulness go before you {Him}”. So, we can ask God to come to our relief, in His justice, righteousness, unfailing love and faithfulness, and of course, in His mercy. We cannot ask God to act opposite to who He is and His ways, He will NOT do it.

Does God NOT love us; and so, answer all our prayers according to what we have asked?  No, and it is because His love is first of all, love unto righteousness ('ahab love'). For better understanding of this love, read my separate article - 'ahab love - Love unto righteousness.

3. Come in humility before God (v2). We, ourselves, need to live a righteous life (active righteousness), and not just rely on the imputed righteous of Jesus. If we live UNrighteous lives while insisting we are righteous, relying solely on the imputed righteousness of Christ, we are really profaning the righteousness of God. Apart from some blunders he did (like his affair with Bathsheba), David endeavored to live honorably and righteously, especially with regard to his dealings with King Saul who plotted repeatedly to kill him. Of course, we must always repent of our sinful ways.

When you are sincerely serving the Lord, you can even ask on the ground of being His servant (v12). We are all servants (prima facie) of the Lord, but do you serve the Lord? In my view, David could have asked on other grounds, stronger grounds, yet he asked on a lesser ground of being God's servant ("I am your servant" is a lesser ground), for he was humble.  David chose the weakest of the "links of entitlement" [ground of being a child, is a stronger link (of entitlement), which David did NOT invoke).

4. All children of God (I use "children", instead of "servants", because some of us do NOT seem to serve, even when we are children of God) ought to know they have a Father God whom they can call out to, when they are in distress (v3-4). Call out to God, instead of falling into despair. David, in this psalm, was doing precisely that.

We should note that David acknowledged that the attacks of the enemy had affected him.  Such is the positive and first thing to do, if we want to stand prevailing.  From it we know that we need help, and help from God.

Do not be nonchalant about the attacks of the enemy and their impact on you; do NOT be ignorant or be proud; they do NOT help.  Don't get yourself into situation of "too much have hit you", that you toppled into despair; realize it earlier and seek God's help humbly, earlier, than later.

5. To avoid sinking into despair, remember the former days, recount the past faithfulness of God (v5). For those, whose walk with the Lord is still short and without much personal testimonies to fall back on, fellowship with other believers would be beneficial, as testimonies of others, too, can encourage us.

6. Express frankly your dire straits, your distress (v6-7). David said his soul thirsted for God (one can die of thirst! – need God badly), and his spirit was failing; and he asked God to answer him quickly.

7. Express your trust in the Lord, that He is your refuge and your shield (v8-9). I say “express”, for you can only honestly say something {express} when it is truly so, in your heart and beliefs. Our trust, hope and faith in God, of course, do take time to grow; and trials and grief do come so that our faith may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Pet 1:6-7).

8. Express your love for God’s will and His ways, and that you want to walk and DO WALK in His righteousness {we, at least must try; do not listen to teachings which say that we should effort NOT} (v10-11). Only when you do walk in His righteousness, can you say, “For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life”.

9. Of course, do not forget to tell God what you want Him to do for you (v12). In David’s context, he needed his enemies silenced, he needed his foes destroyed; and David asked God for that. It is not that God must do what you want, but again, do not listen to teachings which tell you that you cannot tell God what He can do for you; God is not that insecure or think that you could influence his righteousness or judgment. Jesus, Himself, in His earthly ministry, on several occasions (Matt 20:32, Mark 10:36, Mark 10:51, Luke 18:41) asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – Indeed, no children of God should need to despair. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he {God} who promised is faithful (Heb 10:23)

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