Have you ever been in a pit of discouragement? Have despair and depression ever been a crushing weight upon you, such that you wondered if you would emerge from this pit? David was in such a place when he penned Psalm 143 and we can learn much from the psalmist for our own struggles with the ordinary and extraordinary battles that we so often have with the encroaching darkness.
David begins without pretense or theater. He begins with a cry out to the LORD, that He would hear David’s cry, He would give ear to his supplications, and He would answer him according to His perfect faithfulness and His righteousness. (v. 1) David is not concerned about protocol or formality. His only goal is to make his request known to the LORD by an anguished cry from the heart. His aim is to have an audience before the LORD.
And David knows that He does not merit an audience with the LORD. The psalmist knows that his appearance before the LORD and his asking of the LORD’s mercy and power on his behalf are not deserving of an answer. (v.2) “In Your sight no man living is righteous,” but “do not enter into judgment with Your servant.” David’s cry is a pure plea for mercy from the LORD. David plainly declares his own unworthiness, yet his prayer to the LORD is no less bold because of it. Somehow David knows that, even though he himself is not righteous and he himself deserves judgment, the LORD will nevertheless hear his cry and will have mercy on him and will answer his prayer and will deliver him. Somehow the psalmist knows that, because of the merit and the work of Another, he will be accepted and will be considered righteous in God’s sight. Somehow David understands that, because of the work of the perfect Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ, David the unrighteous will be accepted in Him as righteous. “Do not enter into judgment with Your servant,” for You have already accepted me in the Lord Jesus.
We move now into the heart of this passage in the psalm, where the psalmist pours out his emotions and his despair to the LORD. The psalmist conveys his distress (vv. 3-4):
“For the enemy has persecuted my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me dwell in dark places like those who have long been dead.
“Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart is appalled (is desolate) within me.”
Whether “the enemy” is a physical adversary threatening the psalmist’s life, or is Satan or one of his demons in a spiritual attack, or is simply the black depression and despair that can come upon us in a season of hopelessness, the enemy is real and his effects are devastating. “The enemy has persecuted my soul.” He has come at me repeatedly, not giving me time to recover before the next blow, weakening me with his relentless assault until my strength nears the breaking point. He has brought darkness upon my soul. “He has crushed my life to the ground.” His intention is to crush and discourage and to bring to the point of death. The enemy wants me to fall and to not be able to get up. “He has made me dwell in dark places like those who have long been dead.” The enemy wants me to feel the depths of Sheol and he wants me to believe that the situation is hopeless. He wants me to smell the smell of death and to feel darkness and despair and to surrender the fight. O, how often we can feel this way! How often we feel crushed to the ground by the pressures of life! Can we not all agree with the psalmist, that there are times when we feel as though we are dwelling in dark places like the dead?
Because of this persecution of his soul, therefore David’s spirit is overwhelmed within him (v. 4). His discouragement has spread like a crushing cancer and he is overwhelmed, not knowing how or where to fight back. His heart seeks joy, but finds only misery. His heart is appalled and desolate within him, trying to struggle into the light while the enemy has tied a ball-and-chain around him to keep him from light and life and hope and peace. The psalmist is overwhelmed and appalled and in need of deliverance from despair.
The psalmist is in a dark place from which he must be delivered and rescued. Have you ever been in such a place? Maybe you have been there very recently, or maybe you are there even right now. But even though he is in a deep pit, the psalmist has a plan. He has a strategy for effecting his escape. What does he do? What CAN he do to combat the crushing weight of despair? He must appeal to One who has the power to bring him up out of the pit.
David spells out a four-fold plan that any believer can use to deliver themselves from that place of feeling hopeless and in despair (143:5-6).
- I remember the days of old;
- I meditate on all Your doings;
- I muse on the work of Your hands;
- I stretch out my hands to You, my heart longs for You as a parched land.
First, David is going “to remember the days of old.” He remembers that throughout “the days of old” the LORD has always been faithful to His people. The LORD chose Noah and through him created an ark to save His chosen one and to judge the wicked world. He raised up Abraham and from one man, and him as good as dead, the LORD created a mighty nation. The LORD delivered His people from the hand of Pharaoh and destroyed the Egyptians. He led His people through the Red Sea and then through the wilderness for forty years. David also remembers his own personal “days of old,” when the LORD delivered him from the hand of Saul and from countless enemies. He has flourished and has risen to be king over Israel, while the Lord has destroyed David’s foes. Beloved, when we feel the walls closing in and despair rising like a flood, then take the time to “remember the days of old” and you will be encouraged.
David also “meditates on all Your doings.” This is a consideration of what the LORD is now doing, both in the world in general and in the life of the individual believer. Meditate on how the LORD is using the natural forces of the world to bring temporal judgment, but also to bring people to repentance and faith. Consider how the LORD is building His church such that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Meditate on how the Lord is working in your life in so many ways right now, even bringing you various trials so that you will be a soldier who has endured and been strengthened by them. Meditate on the Lord’s activity now and you will feel His power and glory and joy begin to lift you up.
The psalmist also “muses on the work of Your hands.” To muse on the stars and galaxies that fill the night skies and to consider that they are all created by the LORD of heaven brings a sense of humble awe, a feeling of being so tiny and powerless in the face of such genius and majesty. To see the vast oceans; to feel the power of the waves or of the rushing rivers or of the crashing avalanches, and to know that the One who formed all these things is the very One who has chosen you and has committed to be your shield and refuge and defender will raise you out of the pit. Muse on the work of the Lord’s hands and you will feel the darkness giving way to light and hope and peace.
The most important part of the strategy is yet to come. For, having thought ABOUT the Lord and all the things that He has done, David is now going to directly cry out to the Lord in person. “I stretch out my hands to You. My soul longs for You as a parched land (v. 6).” It is one thing to meditate about the Lord, but it is another to appeal to Him for rescue and deliverance. The Lord is mighty to save! It is true that He is worthy of all praise and is all glorious, but His relationship with us is such that He delights to give us good gifts. He delights in His people and He enjoys answering our cries for help. “There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord (Psalm 86:8).” When we are in trouble and are overwhelmed, we have One who is ready to intercede and has the power to deliver us from any foe. “The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry (Psalm 34:15).” As your soul is feeling crushed by despair, stretch out your hands to the LORD and long for Him as a parched land, and He will rend the heavens and come down with thick darkness under His feet. He will draw you out of many waters and will deliver you from your strong enemy, from the one too mighty for you. He rescues you because He delights in you (Psalm 18:9, 16, 17, 19).
When life is overwhelming and the darkness threatens to close in like a crypt, then use David’s plan for gaining the victory: meditate on all the LORD’s doings and then appeal to Him as the One who has declared He is your God.
SDG rmb 9/11/2017