The Righteous One’s Cry For Purity & Protection
In The Face Of Persecution

a brief study of Psalm 141, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 23 March 2012


Psalm 141 is a prayerful Psalm of David. As with most of the psalms, it was borne out of an actual event in David’s life. It has been suggested that it was written during the time when he was suffering persecution by Saul. Calvin agrees with this conjecture.

Whatever the case may be, one thing is clear: David was a type of Christ and so his life in many ways foreshadowed and typified the life of Christ, the Greater David. This being the case, the Lord Jesus would have been able to take up this psalm in his own experience of persecution during his earthly ministry.

And this being the case, every disciple of Christ will be able to take this psalm up in union with Christ. We can take it up meaningfully when we are undergoing persecution ourselves. We can also take it up meaningfully even if we are not undergoing persecution ourselves. Why? No only because there are many statements that are relevant to us even if we are not suffering persecution, but also because we can sing it in union with Christ in meditation of His suffering on our behalf. Was he not persecuted on our behalf? Was not His suffering part of the basis for our enjoying worship with God today? Therefore, it is most fitting in our worship to sing with Christ concerning His suffering on our behalf!

In any case, this psalm may be entitled: “The Righteous One’s Cry for Purity and Protection in the face of Persecution.” It comprises three petitions: (1) There is a plea to be heard (v. 1-2); (2) There is a plea for Purity (v. 3-6); and (3) There is a plea for Protection (v. 7-10).


1. A Plea to be Heard (v. 1-2)

1  LORD, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee. 2 Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

David, like our Saviour, was constant in prayer, but he was mindful not to presume that his prayers would be heard. Thus he begins by pleading with the LORD to make haste unto him and to give ear to His cry. And he desires that his prayer may a pleasing sweet savour unto the Father.

Thus, he compares his prayers with the fragrance of the incense which was daily burnt upon the golden altar before the Holy of Holies.

And he compares the lifting up of his hands to the evening sacrifice. No doubt, lifting up hands is simply a beautiful metonymy for earnest prayer. So David is comparing his prayer with the daily evening sacrifice. Now, the evening sacrifice is described together with the morning sacrifice as “a sweet savour, an offering made by fire unto the LORD” (Exodus 29:42). Perhaps he refers to the evening sacrifice because it was originally an evening prayer. Or perhaps as Matthew Henry suggests, he had “an eye to Christ, who, in the evening of the world and in the evening of the day, was to offer up himself a sacrifice of atonement…”

Whatever the case may be, one thing is sure: we ought to desire that our prayers be heard and that they be a sweet savour sacrifice unto God. Our prayers may be odious with sin, but mingled with the scent of the blood from the horn of the altar, they shall ascend as a pleasing fragrance unto the Father. But let us pray fervently as David did, for as incense has no fragrance without fire, so our prayers cannot be pleasing unto God without the fire of zeal and gratitude unto Christ.


2. A Plea for Purity (v. 3-6)

3 Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.

This is a remarkable plea in the face of persecution isn’t it? Often when threatened or provoked, we would feel justified to respond in anger. We may even excuse ourselves for sinful words in the face of provocation. But David, speaking in the Spirit of Christ, sets us a better example.

Knowing how easily we may be provoked to sin against the Lord with our lips, let us ask the LORD to set a watch over our lips. Let us ask Him to help us that we may not give in to the temptation to satisfy the lust of the flesh.  

This is what the Lord is teaching us to pray when He gives us the words:

4 Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practise wicked works with men that work iniquity: and let me not eat of their dainties.

Bear in mind the context. The context is persecution. When persecuted or provoked the temptation is to return evil for evil. In fact, vengeance is sweet to the flesh. Returning evil for evil is like eating of dainties or delicacies. Just as some of us find a tasty dessert irresistible when we are hungry, so most of us find it almost irresistible to the flesh to respond in anger and sin when provoke. This is why we raise our voice if someone shouts at us.

Oh how we need to learn to ask the Lord to keep us pure in our thoughts, deeds and speech in all circumstances! Oh how we need to imitate the example of Christ who was meek and composed in the face of harsh provocation.

Indeed, there are even circumstances when we are provoked for our good. The apostle to the Hebrews says: “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Heb 10:24). Unless we learn to react meekly in the face of all provocation, we will not be able to benefit from good provocations. Let us therefore seek to cultivate the attitude that we are enjoined in verses 5-6—

5 Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.  6 When their judges are overthrown in stony places, they shall hear my words; for they are sweet.

Let us pray that the Lord will not withhold the righteous from admonishing us. Let us rejoice when we are admonished by the godly. Let us fight the temptation to desire vindictively to see their downfall. Rather let us resolve to pray for them when they are faced with troubles (v. 5). Let us resolve not to speak evil of them, but to speak good words in their behalf when they are faced with chastisement or judgement (v. 6). 

But naturally, in times of persecution, we should not only pray for purity and sanctification. We must also pray for protection.


3. A Plea for Protection
(v. 7-10)

7 Our bones are scattered at the grave’s mouth, as when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth.

We don’t know exactly what prompted David to pen these poignant words. But remember how Doeg the Edomite massacred the priests at Nob after Saul found out that one of the priests had given David provisions as well as the sword of Goliath (1Sam 22:18). It was a terrible massacre. Eighty-five priests in total were killed that day.

David must have been deeply affected when he heard what had happened. He said to Abiathar whose father was murdered in the massacre, “I have occasioned the death of all the persons of thy father's house” (1 Sam 22:22).

Our Lord would have felt similar grief when he thought about the prophets who were persecuted and killed for righteousness’ sake before His coming.

But at such times, our eyes must not remain on the calamity. Our eyes must turn unto the LORD.

 8 But mine eyes are unto thee, O GOD the Lord: in thee is my trust; leave not my soul destitute.

Let us look to the Father by faith. Let us look to Him for encouragement and for protection. Let us pray as per the final words of this psalm:

 9 Keep me from the snares which they have laid for me, and the gins of the workers of iniquity. 10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets, whilst that I withal escape.

The wicked are unwittingly doing the work of Satan. They specialise in laying traps for God’s people. They did that for the Lord Jesus during his earthly ministry. They continue to do so to the servants of Christ from time to time. “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” says our Lord (Jn 15:18).

Let us therefore pray for protection, not only from physical harm but also from spiritual dangers. The traps of the Wicked One are not only for our physical hurt, but are designed for spiritual harm. Let us pray for the LORD’s protection, and at the same time, let us not be afraid to pray that the wicked may fall into their own traps. Who knows if they might not be brought to repentance and to glorify God in this way?


Conclusion

This is Psalm 141. May the Lord grant us that as we sing it in prayer and to admonish one another, we may be sanctified by the Spirit to deal with the provocations that we face day by day. We may face provocation from enemies of the cross. We may even face provocation from fellow believers who sinfully or unwittingly say words that hurt deeply.

Let us cultivate a meek spirit that we may not react sinfully. And let us learn to receive gratefully words of admonishment that are designed for our edification even though they may hurt.

But let us also learn to use this psalm in union with Christ should we have occasion to face persecution for His name’s sake in the days to come. W