Psalm 142 - A Psalm from The Cave
The title of Psalm 142 informs us that this portion of God's Word was written by David 'when he was in the cave'. Every Bible reader remembers at once that this cave of Adullam was the headquarters of David during that early and very difficult part of his life when he was being persecuted by King Saul.
There were no doubt many aspects in which David's life in the cave of Adullam was uncomfortable and irksome to him. A cave is a gloomy home at best, lit by only a tiny fragment of natural light and never cheered, even in summer, by warmth or fresh air. But this cave was ordained by God's providence to be the place where David was to be fitted for his kingdom. 'Before honour is humility' (Proverbs 15:33) and David, type of Christ that he was, had to stoop very low before he was set upon his regal throne. The believer must not become impatient with God's discipline in this life. We need our seasons of humiliation. There are great lessons to be learnt in the cave, as this Psalm will show.
One may suppose that the companions of David were a daily trial to his spirit in the cave. It is true that he had there the congenial companionship for a while of 'his brethren and all his father's house' (1 Samuel 22:1). Yet this must have been much offset by the character and by the large number of those malcontents who had fled to the cave to find asylum with him there: 'everyone that was in distress, and everyone that was in debt, and everyone that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him ... about four hundred men' (1 Samuel 22:2).
Amid debt-ridden and malcontented men, then, David learned to wait on God. Here was the seminary in which he had his tuition in godliness. Here too, as this Psalm shows us, David was taught to sing the songs of Zion, songs which would be sung and re-sung as long as the militant church of Christ would be on earth. The Christian who cannot go to any school of theology may, if he is teachable, learn inspiring lessons under God, even in the dark places of this world. There is honey for Christians in the cave.
It requires no stretching of the imagination to realise that David must often have longed for the day when he could quit the cave of Adullam and take up his rightful place on the throne of Israel and Judah. It was a sore trial to his spirit to be unjustly hounded by Saul. No just and upright man enjoys being treated like a scoundrel. David had vivid recollections of the spear hurled at him by Saul and which had narrowly missed his head (1 Samuel 19:10). He had fled in fear repeatedly from the presence of Saul. He could recall the time when, to save his own life, he had feigned madness at the court of Achish (1 Samuel 21:10-15). He could think back to the painful day when news came to him that Saul had murdered all the priests at Nob save one (1 Samuel 22:9-23). No wonder David's spirit often sighed, 'How long, O Lord, how long?' (Psalm 13:1; 94:3, 4). God will teach his people to be patient with the wicked as he himself is patient. There is a needful process of sanctification going on inside every Christian who is in the cave.
We shall not surely err when we suppose that David must often have wondered at the seeming slowness of God's promises, while he lived in the cave. David's certainty of being king rested on the Word of God. His warrant to expect his kingdom sprang from the Lord's command to Samuel: 'Fill thy horn with oil ... I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons' (1 Samuel 16:1); and when David stood before Samuel, the old prophet was told: 'Arise, anoint him: for this is he' (1 Samuel 16:12). Moreover, 'the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward' (1 Samuel 16:13). Both Word and Spirit assured David that his title to the throne was good. But long, weary years were to pass before God's promise would be fulfilled. The believer has a good title to possess heaven as his home and the earth as his inheritance (John 14:3; Matthew 5:5). But God's promises are not fulfilled till we have 'suffered a while' (1 Peter 5:10). It is needful for the believer to have his faith and patience tried. Heaven becomes ever more precious to those who are in the cave.
It is with no small degree of awe and wonder that we have frequently read about those good saints of old who, among many other sufferings and privations 'wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth' (Hebrews 11:38). If we ever stopped to ask ourselves what they did in their solitude or in their sorrow we find a practical answer in the Psalm to which we have turned. They lifted up their eyes, as many a Waldensian, Covenanter and Huguenot was to do in after days, to the God of all hope.
They endured as seeing him who is invisible; they looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Hebrews 11:10
We do not naturally love to live as exiles on the earth. But it is good for the soul because it gives to us a true perspective on this life. When we are lulled in the lap of pleasure we see God as small and earth as great. Our love for God declines; our appetite for worldly delights grows stronger. But when we are tossed to and fro in the earth and 'emptied from vessel to vessel' (Jeremiah 48:11) we recognise the world to be the nothing that it is; we then see God to be our great and only good.
This was David's experience as he wrote the Psalm which we are considering:
Verse 1: 'I Cried unto the Lord with my Voice; with My Voice unto the Lord did I make my Supplication.'
The pressure of his thoughts was so great that he could not rest content, as often we all do, with silent prayer. Anguish and deep feeling pressed on him so heavily that he could find relief only in loud cries to God. How true it is that prayer is born out of need! The sharper our sense of need, the warmer and louder our cry to God will be. Our experiences of the Cross in everyday life are ordained to make us cry out to our loving Father in heaven, even as our Saviour's experience of the Cross constrained him to 'offer up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears' to his Father in heaven (Hebrews 5:7).
Are we sore pressed in this life? Let not the Christian seek relief in cheap music or entertainment. Let him get good out of his miseries by going to his God in secret. There let him cry out aloud to him who hears the groaning cry and rewards his people openly. Weakness in prayer results when the believer escapes into the arms of this world's entertainers. To God let us raise our voice.
Verse 2: 'I Poured out my Complaint before Him; I Shewed before Him my Trouble.'
Trouble loosens the tongue. We are sometimes tongue-tied before God. Our powers of utterance are feeble and our pitiful trickle of thought is soon dried up. But life in the 'cave' of God's discipline will teach us again how to pray. Here David's prayers and plaintive petitions pour forth in a torrent. We may not complain against God; but we may pour out our complaints into his ears. Like Hezekiah, he spreads forth his needs before the Almighty. He tells us this to teach us to imitate him: 'I shewed before him my trouble'.
That is why God brings us as his people into trouble. It is so that we may, in turn, show it to God. In so doing we get a double benefit. We exercise our faith in God's power to deliver us and we leave our cares and burdens at his door.
Verse 3: 'When my Spirit was Overwhelmed within Me, then thou Knewest my Path. In the Way wherein I Walked have they Privily Laid a Snare for Me.'
Here David tells us the substance of his prayer. He makes a digest of the things which he said to God. He was not ashamed to admit his inward feelings to have been very difficult to bear. It is hard to be 'overwhelmed' in our minds. Circumstances can be so trying that we feel swamped by them. We feel as though we are to drown in a sea of troubles. But even when circumstances are at their worst, God 'knows our path'. By faith we see that we are not deserted when we feel most deserted. The Christian is surrounded by God's holy watchers who attend us, all unnoticed, on our dangerous path.
But the believer's path is beset with unseen snares. Ecumenical voices whisper and beckon him into the 'wider church' with its easier creeds and lifestyle. Well-disguised errors catch at his heels to ensnare him and to inoculate him against serious religion by their lies and by their lightness. There are a thousand places which are out of bounds to God's people in this life. The halls and clubs of vice are good news to the thoughtless, but the Lord's people recognise that they are snares.
Verse 4: 'I Looked on my Right Hand, and Beheld, but there was No Man that would Know Me: Refuge Failed Me; No Man Cared for my Soul.'
There is loneliness and loneliness. What David here feels is spiritual loneliness, which is more severe than natural loneliness. Those who suffer natural loneliness suffer because they have no friends near them. But those who have the experience of spiritual loneliness are lonely because men will not befriend them. They are rejected and shunned because they are God's people, whom others regard as 'too serious' and 'too religious'. The light of heaven is in their eye and so men prefer not to associate with them. This may happen to a child of God in his own family ... in his own home ... in his own church!
This spiritual loneliness is further expressed in this, that David had no man to 'care for his soul'. When we have a fellow believer at hand we have a place of 'refuge'. But refuge fails us when we have no sympathetic Christian with whom to share the concerns of our souls. There was no Jonathan at hand to tell his sorrow to.
Many a Christian has been in this lonely 'cave' when 'no man cares for his soul'. Let us value our times of fellowship and not waste them. Let us care for the souls of our brethren in every way we can.
Verse 5: 'I Cried unto Thee, O Lord: I said, Thou Art my Refuge and my Portion in the Land of the Living.'
David, who a moment ago found no refuge, now tells us that he has found a refuge at last. It is in God. Do we realise that God is the believer's sanctuary when all else fails? All creature comforts are but a pale shadow of the fulness and sufficiency which we have in God in the worst of times.
When our life in this world's dreary 'cave' seems to be shorn of all comfort and all joy, we have another world to turn to. God himself is a world of joy to the lonely soul that draws near to him by faith. Luther would say so and he would point to his time of trial at Worms. Rutherford would say so and point to his confinement at Aberdeen. Many a modern saint would say the same today in Turkey or in some Arab land where darkness and the frequent call to prayer from the nearby mosque reminds him that he is a stranger here on earth. 'Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee' (Psalm 73:25). Let us make God our refuge from the noisy clamour of our modern world. The whole world will one day be hushed in silence forever. The believer's life is scarcely yet begun. Our time of greatest joy is to be when time itself is over.
Verse 6: 'Attend unto my Cry; for I am Brought Very Low: Deliver Me from my Persecutors; for they are Stronger than I.'
It is mortifying to the Christian when he feels that God is not listening to his prayers. As a child pulls at its mother's sleeve to draw her attention, so does a believer importune God till He attends to his prayers and sends a comforting blessing. This is all the more true when we are conscious of being surrounded by those who hate us for our love of God. David calls them 'persecutors' and such they certainly are. They dislike what we stand for and they are very often stronger than we are.
It is the wonder of the ages that the weak and timid church of Jesus Christ has survived all the hordes of persecutors who have attempted to exterminate her all through history. There are many doing so still at this very hour. They would gladly silence the voice of the gospel and exile truth to another world, if they could. But God is the hidden strength of his people in all ages. The strength of men is greater than the church; but the 'weakness of God is stronger than men'.
However discouraged we are, we must not dream foolish dreams. The church will never be destroyed in the earth. All the church's enemies at last have had to leave their task unfinished. So Julian the Apostate's last words tell us: 'Thou hast conquered, O Galilean!' Jesus and his church rose up on the waves of providence, while the proud empire of Rome sank down forever.
Verse 7: 'Bring my Soul Out of Prison, that I may Praise thy Name: the Righteous shall Compass me about; for Thou Shalt Deal Bountifully with me.'
David's soul, like his body, was in a 'prison'. The cave of Adullam must often have closed in upon his spirits and made him feel oppressed. But his faith and hope look forward to the good which God will do him in a coming day: 'The righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me'. God would one day take him out of this cave and set him on the throne of his people. Then there would be loud shouts from all good men: 'God save the King'. There was to be a coronation-day, a time of festivity The ark would be carried at last to Zion. The tabernacle would become a temple. Yea, more! In the course of time, another 'David' would come who would sit at God's right hand in the glory above. Sin would be one day atoned for forever. Sinners would cease to be. Heaven and earth would pass away. The trumpet would sound and the new world appear in which there dwells righteousness.
Let us be of good cheer. David's prayerful meditation is more than half fulfilled. Time itself is in short supply. Soon we shall see a Saviour coming down to take us home. There will be no more 'cave' then!