Treasury of David
TITLE. Maschil of David. This Maschil is written for our instruction. It teaches us principally by example how to order our prayer in times of distress. Such instruction is among the most needful, practical, and effectual parts of our spiritual education. He who has learned how to pray has been taught the most useful of the arts and sciences.
The disciples said unto the Son of David, "Lord, teach us to pray"; and here David gives us a valuable lesson by recording his own experience as to supplication from beneath a cloud.
A Prayer when he was in the cave. He was in one of his many lurking places, either Engedi, Adullam, or some other lone cavern wherein he could conceal himself from Saul and his bloodhounds. Caves make good closets for prayer; their gloom and solitude are helpful to the exercise of devotion. Had David prayed as much in his palace as he did in his cave, he might never have fallen into the act which brought such misery upon his later days.
SUBJECT. There can be little doubt that this song dates from the days when Saul was sorely persecuting David, and David himself was in soul trouble, probably produced by that weakness of faith which led him to associate with heathen princes. His fortunes were evidently at their lowest, and, what was worse, his reputation had fearfully fallen; yet he displayed a true faith in God, to whom he made known his pressing sorrows.
The gloom of the cave is over the psalm, and yet as if standing at the mouth of it the prophet-poet sees a bright light a little beyond.
Verse 1. I cried unto the LORD with my voice. It was a cry of such anguish that he remembers it long after, and makes a record of it. In the loneliness of the cave he could use his voice as much as he pleased; and therefore he made its gloomy vaults echo with his appeals to Heaven. When there was no soul in the cavern seeking his blood, David with all his soul was engaged in seeking his God. He felt it a relief to his heart to use his voice in his pleadings with Jehovah. There was a voice in his prayer when he used his voice for prayer.
With my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication. He dwells upon the fact that he spoke aloud in prayer; it was evidently well impressed upon his memory, hence he doubles the word and says, "with my voice; with my voice."
It is well when our supplications are such that we find pleasure in looking back upon them. He who is cheered by the memory of his prayers, will pray again.
See how the godly man's appeal was to Jehovah alone. He did not go round about to men, but he ran straight forward to Jehovah, his God. What true wisdom is here! Consider how the Psalmist's prayer grew into shape as he proceeded with it.
He first poured out his natural longings, "I cried"; and then he gathered up all his wits and arranged his thoughts, "I made supplication." True prayers may differ in their diction, but not in their direction. An impromptu cry and a preconceived supplication must alike ascend towards the one prayer hearing God, and he will accept each of them with equal readiness.
The intense personality of the prayer is noteworthy. No doubt the Psalmist was glad of the prayers of others, but he was not content to be silent himself. See how everything is in the first person, "I cried with my voice; with my voice did I make my supplication." It is good to pray in the plural, "Our Father", but in times of trouble we shall feel forced to change our note into "Let this cup pass from me."
Verse 2. I poured out my complaint before him. His inward meditation filled his soul: the bitter water rose up to the brim; what was to be done? He must pour out the wormwood and the gall, he could not keep it in; he lets it run away as best it can, so that his heart may be emptied of the fermenting mixture. But he took care where he outpoured his complaint, lest he should do mischief, or receive an ill return. If he poured it out before man he might only receive contempt from the proud, hard-heartedness from the careless, or pretended sympathy from the false; and therefore he resolved upon an outpouring before God alone, since he would pity and relieve.
The word is scarcely "complaint"; but even if it be so we may learn from this text that our complaint must never be of a kind that we dare not bring before God. We may complain to God, but not of God. When we complain it should not be before men, but before God alone.
I showed before him my trouble. He exhibited his griefs to one who could assuage them. He did not fall into the mistaken plan of so many who publish their sorrows to those who cannot help them.
This verse is parallel with the first. David first pours out his complaint, letting it flow forth in a natural, spontaneous manner, and then afterwards he makes a more elaborate show of his affliction; just as in the former verse (Psalm 141:1-10) he began with crying, and went on to "make supplication." Praying men pray better as they proceed.
Note that we do not show our trouble before the Lord that he may see it, but that we may see him. It is for our relief, and not for his information that we make plain statements concerning our woes. It does us much good to set out our sorrow in order, for much of it vanishes in the process, like a Spirit which will not abide the light of day; and the rest loses much of its terror, because the veil of mystery is removed by a clear and deliberate stating of the trying facts.
Pour out your thoughts and you will see what they are; show your trouble and the extent of it will be known to you: let all be done before the Lord, for in comparison with his great majesty of love the trouble will seem to be as nothing.
Verse 3. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then you knew my path. The bravest spirit is sometimes sorely put to it. A heavy fog settles down upon the mind, and the man seems drowned and smothered in it; covered with a cloud, crushed with a load, confused with difficulties, conquered by impossibilities.
David was a hero, and yet his spirit sank. He could smite a giant down, but he could not keep himself up. He did not know his own path, nor feel able to bear his own burden.
Observe his comfort: he looked away from his own condition to the ever-observant, all-knowing God: and solaced himself with the fact that all was known to his heavenly Friend. Truly it is well for us to know that God knows what we do not know. We lose our heads, but God never closes his eyes. Our judgments lose their balance, but the eternal mind is always clear.
In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me. This the Lord knew at the time, and gave his servant warning of it. Looking back, the sweet singer is rejoiced that he had so gracious a Guardian, who kept him from unseen dangers. Nothing is hidden from God. No secret snare can hurt the man who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, for he shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
The use of concealed traps is disgraceful to our enemies, but they care little to what tricks they resort for their evil purposes. Wicked men must find some exercise for their malice, and therefore when they dare not openly assail they will privately ensnare. They watch the gracious man to see where his haunt is, and there they set their trap; but they do it with great caution, avoiding all observation, lest their victim being forewarned should escape their toils. This is a great trial, but the Lord is greater still, and makes us to walk safely in the midst of danger, for he knows us and our enemies, our way and the snare which is laid in it. Blessed be his name.
Verse 4. I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me. He did not miss a friend for want of looking for him, nor for want of looking in a likely place. Surely some helper would be found in the place of honor; someone would stand at his right hand to undertake his defense. He looked steadily, and saw all that could be seen, for he "beheld"; but his anxious gaze was not met by an answering smile. Strange to say, all were strange to David. He had known many, but none would know him.
When a person is in bad circumstances, it is astonishing how weak the memories of his former friends become: they quite forget, they refuse to know. This is a dire calamity. It is better to be opposed by foes than to be forsaken by friends. When friends look for us they affect to have known us from our birth, but when we look for friends it is amazing how little we can make them remember. The fact is that in times of desertion it is not true that no man did know us, but no man would know us. Their ignorance is willful.
Refuge failed me. Where in happier days I found a ready harbor, I now discovered none at all. My place of flight had taken to flight. My refuge gave me a refusal. No man cared for my soul. Whether I lived or died was no concern of anybody's. I was cast out as an outcast.
No soul cared for my soul. I dwelt in no man's land, where none cared to have me, and none cared about me. This is an ill plight—no place where to lay our head, and no head willing to find us a place. How pleased were his enemies to see the friend of God without a friend! How sad was he to be utterly deserted in his utmost need! Can we not picture David in the cave, complaining that even the cave was not a refuge for him, for Saul had come even there? Hopeless was his looking out, we shall soon see him looking up.
Verse 5. I cried unto you, O Lord. As man would not regard him, David was driven to Jehovah, his God. Was not this a gain made out of a loss? Was not this wealth gained by a failure? Anything which leads us to cry unto God is a blessing to us.
This is the second time that in this short psalm we find the same record, "I cried unto you, O LORD." The saintly man is evidently glad to remember his cry and its results.
We hear often of the bitter cry of outcast London, here is another bitter cry, and it comes from an outcast, in wretched lodgings, forgotten by those who should have helped him.
I said, You are my refuge and my portion in the land of the living. There is a sort of progressive repetition all through this sacred song. He cried first, but he said afterwards. His cry was bitter, but his saying was sweet. His cry was sharp and short, but his saying was fresh and full.
It gives a believer great pleasure to remember his own believing speeches. He may well desire to bury his unbelieving murmurings in oblivion, but the triumphs of grace in working in him a living faith, he will not dream of forgetting.
What a grand confession of faith was this! David spoke to God, and of God, "You are my refuge." Not you have provided a refuge for me—but you, yourself, are my refuge. He fled to God alone—he hid himself beneath the wings of the Eternal. He not only believed this, but said it, and practiced it.
Nor was this all; for David, when banished from his portion in the promised land, and cut off from the portion of goods which he by right inherited—found his portion in God, yes, God was his portion. This was so not only in reference to a future state, but here among living men.
It is sometimes easier to believe in a portion in Heaven, than in a portion upon earth. We could die more easily than live, at least we think so. But there is no living in the land of the living like living upon the living God. For the man of God to say these precious things in the hour of his dire distress was a grand attainment. It is easy to prate bravely when we dwell at ease, but to speak confidently in affliction is quite another matter.
Even in this one sentence we have two parts, the second rising far above the first. It is something to have Jehovah for our refuge, but it is everything to have him for our portion. If David had not cried he would not have said: and if the Lord had not been his refuge—he would never have been his portion. The lower step is as needful as the higher; but it is not necessary always to stop on the first round of the ladder.
Verse 6. Attend unto my cry. Men of God look upon prayer as a reality, and they are not content without having an audience with God. Moreover, they have such confidence in the Lord's condescending grace, that they hope he will even attend to that poor broken prayer which can only be described as a cry.
For I am brought very low, and therefore all the prayer I can raise is a mournful cry. This is his argument with God: he is reduced to such a sad condition that if he be not rescued, he will be ruined. Gracious men may not only be low, but very low; and this should not be a reason for their doubting the efficacy of their prayers, but rather a plea with the Lord why they should have special attention.
Deliver me from my persecutors. If he did not get out of their hands, they would soon kill him out of hand; and as he could not himself effect an escape, he cried to God, "deliver me."
For they are stronger than I. As he before found a plea in his sadness—so now in his feebleness. Saul and his courtiers were in power, and could command the aid of all who sought royal favor; but poor David was in the cave, and every Nabal reviled him. Saul was a monarch, and David a fugitive. Saul had all the forms of law on his side, while David was an outlaw. So that the prayer before us comes from the weak, who proverbially go to the wall—a good place to go to if they turn their faces to it in prayer, as Hezekiah did in his sickness.
The Lord is accustomed to take the side of the oppressed, and to show his power by baffling tyrants. David's supplication was therefore sure to speed.
In these sentences we see how explicitly the man of God described his case in his private communings with his Lord: in real earnest he poured out his complaint before him and showed him his trouble.
Verse 7. Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise your name. That God may be glorified is another notable plea for a suppliant. Escaped prisoners are sure to speak well of those who give them liberty. Soul emancipation is the noblest form of liberation, and calls for the loudest praise. He who is delivered from the dungeons of despair, is sure to magnify the name of the Lord.
We are in such a prison that only God himself can bring us out of it, and when he does so he will put a new song into our mouths.
The cave was not half such a dungeon to David's body, as persecution and temptation made for his soul. To be exiled from the godly is worse than imprisonment, hence David makes it one point of his release that he would be restored to church fellowship.
The righteous shall compass me about. Saints gather around a child of God when his Father smiles upon him; they come to hear his joyful testimony, to rejoice with him, and to have their own faith encouraged. All the true believers in the twelve tribes were glad to rally to David's banner when the Lord enlarged his spirit; they glorified God for him and with him and through him. They congratulated him, consorted with him, crowned him, and championed him.
This was a sweet experience for righteous David, who had for awhile come under the censure of the upright. He bore their smiting with patience, and now he welcomes their sanction with gratitude. For you shall deal bountifully with me. God's bountiful dealing is sure to bring with it the sympathy and alliance of all the favorites of the Great King.
What a change from looking for a friend and finding none to this enthusiastic concourse of allies around the man after God's own heart! When we can begin a psalm with crying, we may hope to close it with singing. The voice of prayer, soon awakens the voice of praise.