The Righteous One Weary & Lonely
In A Dark Valley

a brief study of Psalm 143, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 5 April 2012


Psalm 143 is another psalm of David which is greatly beloved by the saints throughout the ages.

We do not have any indication of when exactly it was written. But traditionally it is assigned to the time when David was being pursued by his son Absalom. David, at such a time, would no doubt have been brought very, very low. He must have been feeling deeply discouraged and overwhelmed. It was at such a time that he penned the words in this psalm to encourage himself and others with him.

But as Augustine puts it in his commentary on this psalm:

We know from the Books of Kings that this happened:... but we must recognise here another David, truly “strong in hand,”… even our Lord Jesus Christ. For all those events of past time were figures of things to come. Let us seek then in this Psalm our Lord and SaviourJesus Christ, announcing Himself beforehand in His prophecy, and foretelling what should happen at this time by things which were done long ago.

When we read this psalm in this light, we will see that these are the words, which our Lord would have used in His prayers as He headed from Gethsemane into the hours of darkness at the Cross of Calvary.

This Psalm, therefore, tells us about what our Lord felt and how He reacted in His hours of greatest need. We may entitle it, “The Righteous One Weary and Lonely in a Dark Valley.” As we sing this Psalm our hearts should be moved with sorrow for our sin that led our Lord to the Cross, and with gratitude to our Lord for what He has done for us.

But let us also learn from this Psalm, how we as the body of Christ ought to feel and to respond in our hours of greatest need. Let us sing this Psalm prayerfully when we feel low and depressed in our souls.

Indeed, this psalm is a heartfelt prayer. It is as such difficult to outline.[1] Nevertheless we can discern three kinds of prayerful statements interspersed throughout. We may classify them as Outpouring, Petitions and Arguments.

Let’s consider each of these.


1. Outpouring

The Puritan John Bunyan has written a very excellent definition of prayer. He tells us that “Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God.”

That is right. Prayer is not merely asking God for things. It is an outpouring of our hearts.

As David poured His heart unto God, so our Lord must have done the same:


·   v. 3 — “the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead. 4 Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate.

·   v. 6—“I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land.

·   v. 7—“my spirit faileth…

Our Lord was afflicted because of “the enemy.” Who is the enemy? The enemy of David was Absalom his son and his co-conspirators. The enemy of our Lord was sin and sinners—the enemies of God. Christ our Lord knew that, on the one hand, He was facing the wrath of His Father on account of sin. And, on the other hand, He was being persecuted by sinners who hated the Father. He had no sin, but our guilt was upon Him. He had no crime, but that the Scriptures be fulfilled, He must needs be persecuted by sinners for our sake.

Christ, our Lord was therefore weighed down heavily in His soul. He was suffering so intensely that His sweat was as drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. His sense of being forsaken by the Father was so great that He cried out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.”

Brethren and youths, if and when you have to suffer depression in your soul, remember the sufferings of your Christ on your behalf. And remember to pour out your hearts unto your heavenly Father as your Lord himself did.

But remember too to petition the Father as our Lord did…



2. Petitions

This Psalm contains a dozen distinct petitions. It begins with a petition:

v. 1—“Hear my prayer, O LORD, give ear to my supplications…”


Then…

·   v. 2—“Enter not into judgment with thy servant…

·   v. 7a—“Hear me speedily, O LORD…

·   v. 7b—“Hide not thy face from me…

·   v. 8—“Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning…

·   v. 8b—“Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk.

·   v. 9—“Deliver me, O LORD, from mine enemies…

·   v. 10a—“Teach me to do thy will…

·   v. 10b—“Lead me into the land of uprightness.

·   v. 11a—“Quicken me, O LORD…

·   v. 11b—“Bring my soul out of trouble.”

·   v. 12—“Cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul.

What can we learn from these petitions of David and of our Lord?

First, notice how He does not presume a right to a favourable hearing by his Father. He petitions His Father to hear him favourably: “Hear my prayer, O LORD, give ear to my supplications…” (v. 1); Hear me speedily, O LORD…” (v. 7); “hide not thy face from me…

Secondly, notice how He acknowledges the justice of His Father in his present distress: “Enter not into judgment with thy servant…” (v. 2). In using these words, our Lord would be saying: “Father, I do not need to be convinced that there is cause for this darkness. I know that Thou hast a perfect reason… no man can be justified in Thy sight except I lay down my life for them.”

One of our great failures in prayer is our failure to acknowledge that whatever distress comes upon us, God has a sovereign, just and wise purpose. Our Lord knew that His suffering was on account of sin and salvation. Shall we not know that all our sufferings are for our good and the glory of God?

Thirdly, notice how in His petitions, His overwhelming concern is the glory of His Father, and His own enjoyment of Him? “Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning… cause me to know the way wherein I should walk” (v. 8). “Teach me to do thy will… lead me into the land of uprightness” (v. 10). Quicken me, O LORD…” (v. 11).

The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. Our Lord, the God-Man, acknowledges that even in His prayer. He desires to hear the lovingkindness of His father; He desires to be the more encouraged to do His will; He desires enter the land of uprightness, or to enjoy God world without end.”

Shall we not learn from our Lord to petition the Father with an eye on His glory, and on our sanctification and enjoyment of him?

But finally, notice how our Lord would have prayed specifically for his own comfort. 

·   Deliver me, O LORD, from mine enemies” (v. 9).

·   Bring my soul out of trouble.” (v. 11).

·   Cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul” (v. 12).


Our Lord had every right to call for the destruction of His enemies, for they were God’s enemies. David and every child of God have the same indulgence.

But the
 point of application I would like to highlight this evening is not the validity of imprecatory prayers. It is this: Our Lord was facing great distress in his life. He was experiencing much bodily pain and discomfort. But what was the focus of His prayers for His own comfort? It was His soul: “Bring my soul out of trouble” (v. 11). “Cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul” (v. 12).

The word is nephesh (vp,n<) in the Hebrew, which literally refers to the soul. Our Lord’s specific petitions in regards to his comfort concerns His soul.

This is the pattern we must learn in our prayer. The apostles learn it well. Make study of all the prayers recorded in the New Testament, and you will notice that the emphasis is always spiritual comfort and prosperity more than physical comfort and prosperity.

But finally, let us also learn from David and from our Lord, not just to petition our Father, but also to use meaningful arguments or appeals in our prayers.


3. Arguments

Notice the use of appropriate arguments for every of the petitions recorded for us. For examples:

·   When He cries unto His Father to hear His prayer, He appeals to His faithfulness and righteousness (v. 1).

·   When He desired a speedy response from His Father to show His loving countenance (v. 7), He expressed His fear that He might otherwise be “like unto them that go down into the pit” in despair.

·   When He desired to hear His Father’s lovingkindness (v. 8); He acknowledges His faith in Him.

·   When He wished His Father to lead Him according to His will (v. 10); He confessed that His Father is His God, and His Spirit is good.

·   When He cries unto His Father to quicken Him and to bring Him out of trouble (v. 11); He appeals to His Father’s good name and righteousness.

·   When He asked His Father to destroy His enemies (v. 12); He argues that His enemies are the Father’s enemies, for He is His servant.

One of the Puritans said to the effect that the art of effectual prayers is to know how to use the right arguments. David writing in the Spirit of Christ has given us an example. We must learn to use godly and God-honouring arguments in our prayers. The use of godly arguments for our petitions ensures that we do not pray amiss or for selfish reasons. Unless we can attach a good argument to every of our petition, we shall pray amiss.

Conclusion

Beloved, let us learn from our Lord’s example how to pray—especially in times of crises.

Let us learn to pour out our hearts, though our heavenly Father knows all things. Let us learn to petition for the right things and with the right emphasis. Let us learn to pray humbly and effectually with the right arguments. Amen. W



[1] Some (e.g. see Robert L Alden, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21/3 [Sep 1978]: 208-9) have attempted to construct a chiastic outline of this psalm based on some recurring keywords. But the evangelical or edificational usefulness of such an outline is questionable.