Theme: Alone and in Trouble
In this week’s lessons, we are reminded of God’s care for us as we cry out to him in our troubles.
Scripture: Psalm 142:1-7
Few things in life are worse than to be in trouble and to be entirely alone. Yet when things go wrong for us, when life turns sour or when we are in serious trouble, we almost always have to go through it by ourselves. Alexander Maclaren wrote, “The soul that has to wade through deep waters has always to do it alone; for no human sympathy reaches to full knowledge of, or share in, even the best loved one’s grief. We have companions in joy; sorrow we have to face by ourselves.” Yet Maclaren adds, still speaking of the dark side of things but pointing upward to our hope, “Unless we have Jesus with us in the darkness, we have no one.”1
Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1855-1919), an American poet, wrote,
Laugh and the world laughs with you;
Weep and you weep alone.
Cynical words, but true. Nevertheless, Christians find that although others may desert us in our troubles, we are never deserted by Jesus, who knows us thoroughly, understands all we are going through and supports us in it.
In Psalm 142 David is alone and in trouble. We know this not only because the psalm speaks of his being alone and in trouble, but because it begins with a title line saying that it was written “when [or about the time when] he was in the cave.” This is the only psalm in this final collection of Davidic psalms (Psalms 138-145) that provides the reader with a setting: “A maskil of David. When he was in the cave. A Prayer.” But it is helpful for our understanding of the psalm since we know something about David’s situation at this time from the account of these days in 1 Samuel 22:1, 2. Even more, it makes Psalm 142 a companion to Psalm 57, which likewise begins: “Of David. A miktam. When he had fled from Saul into the cave.”
This was the lowest point in David’s life. After killing Goliath, the Philistine hero, David entered the military service of King Saul. But his natural abilities and successes provoked Saul’s jealousy, and after a short time David needed to escape from Saul’s court into the wilderness. David had no provisions, no followers, and no place to turn. Ahimelech, the priest at Nob, gave him food and the sword that was once Goliath’s; Ahimelech was later killed by Saul because of it. David then went to Gath, the Philistine city. But this proved to be both dangerous and unworkable, and David eventually escaped into the wilderness again and hid in the cave of Adullam.
It was about his early months in this cave, before his brothers and other distressed and discontented men began to gather around him and become the core of his future army, that Psalms 57 and 142 were written.
Which of these two psalms came first? The one we are studying now was probably first, because it is the most desperate and in it David seems to be most isolated. Kidner finds the earlier psalm “bold and animated,” and it is. David praises God for the deliverance he has given, crying, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens” (vv. 5, 11). But of Psalm 142 Kidner rightly says, “In [it] the strain of being hated and hunted is almost too much, and faith is at full stretch.” Yes, but David is not defeated, and in the final words his faith “is at last joined by hope.”2
Kidner has a useful outline of this psalm, based on the stanzas of the New International Version: 1) my plea; 2) my plight; 3) my portion; and 4) my prospect. It is a useful outline for following David’s thought.
1Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 3, Psalms 90-150 (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1894), p. 408.
2Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), p. 473.
What characterizes grief? What role does Jesus play in this?
Discuss the setting of Psalm 142.
Identify the psalm’s connection with Psalm 57.
Application: In what troubled time in your life has your faith been stretched to its fullest? How quickly did you turn to God? How did he respond?
Key Point: Nevertheless, Christians find that although others may desert us in our troubles, we are never deserted by Jesus, who knows us thoroughly, understands all we are going through and supports us in it.
For Further Study: Throughout history, God’s people have turned to the Psalms for help in troubles, fears, and sorrows of all kinds. If you or someone you know is going through a difficult time and could be blessed by a careful look at this much-loved portion of Scripture, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is offering the three-volume paperback set at 25% off the regular price.