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Psalm 142 - David In The Cave

INTRODUCTION: The heading on this Psalm does not identify the cave or the specific circumstances that prompted the composition, so neither of these can be determined with certainty. However, the content seems to me to be most compatible with the time when David first arrived by himself at the cave near the town of Adullam in Judah. He had gone to a few places as he was in continual flight following the direct attempts on his life by King Saul, until he finally found some respite at that cave.

NOTE: All Bible passages are taken from the 1833 Webster Bible.


Joshua 15 "33 And in the valley, Eshtaol, and Zoreah, and Ashnah, 34 And Zanoah, and En-gannim, Tappuah, and Enam, 35 Jarmuth, and Adullam, Socoh, and Azekah, 36 And Sharaim, and Adithaim, and Gederah, and Gederothaim; fourteen cities with their villages:"

1 Samuel 21 "1 Then came David to Nob to Ahimelech the priest: and Ahimelech was afraid at the meeting of David, and said to him, Why [art] thou alone, and no man with thee? 2 And David said to Ahimelech the priest, The king hath commanded me a business, and hath said to me, Let no man know any thing of the business about which I send thee, and what I have commanded thee: and I have appointed [my] servants to such and such a place." ... "8 And David said to Ahimelech, And is there not here under thy hand a spear or sword? for I have neither brought my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king's business required haste. 9 And the priest said, The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom thou slewest in the valley of Elah, behold, it [is here] wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod: if thou wilt take that, take [it]: for [there is] no other save that here. And David said, [There is] none like that; give it to me. 10 And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath. 11 And the servants of Achish said to him, [Is] not this David the king of the land? did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands? 12 And David laid up these words in his heart, and was greatly afraid of Achish the king of Gath. 13 And he changed his behavior before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard. 14 Then said Achish to his servants, Lo, ye see the man is mad: why [then] have ye brought him to me? 15 Have I need of mad-men, that ye have brought this [man] to play the mad-man in my presence? shall this [man] come into my house?"

1 Samuel 22 "1 David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father's house heard [it], they went down thither to him. 2 And every one [that was] in distress, and every one that [was] in debt, and every one [that was] discontented, resorted to him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men."

COMMENTS: the excerpt from Joshua chapter 15 is given above to identify Adullam as one of the many cities given to the tribe of Judah when they entered the promised land, and apparently there was a cave of significant size located nearby. The verses from 1 Samuel chapter 21 give brief details of David's stop at Nob while he was in flight from the pursuit of King Saul. He was by himself and he had no food or weapon, but the priest at Nob gave him food and the sword of Goliath. David then went into the territory of the Philistines to be out of reach of Saul, but when he became concerned about his safety at Gath, he feigned being mad so he would not be taken seriously.

He then went to the cave at Adullam by himself, as recorded in the opening of 1 Samuel 22. This is when I believe his situation first became overwhelming to him, and Psalm 142 seems to be best suited to this point in his life. With no lapse of time given, verse one ends with the information that his family heard David was at that cave, and they went to him. Circumstances began to improve as others who were in distress, had debts, or were discontent joined David there, and after an unspecified time he was captain over about four hundred men.


Psalm 142 "1 Maschil of David; a prayer when he was in the cave. I cried to the LORD with my voice; with my voice to the LORD I made my supplication. 2 I poured out my complaint before him; I showed before him my trouble. 3 When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. In the way in which I walked have they privily laid a snare for me."

COMMENTS: The heading for this psalm designates it as instructive by the term Maschil, and it is a prayer. David may have wanted this to be instructive to himself whenever he faced similar circumstances again, or he may have wanted it to have general application for others who would face very trying difficulties with a bleak outlook. In Psalm 143 the author expressed the similar feeling of being overwhelmed. Psalm 143 "3 For 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."

Asaph recorded some words that could indicate a kinship to David's in his thoughts. Psalm 77 "1 To the chief Musician, to Jeduthun, A Psalm of Asaph. I cried to God with my voice, even to God with my voice; and he gave ear to me. 2 In the day of my trouble I sought the LORD: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. 3 I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah." David and Asaph both prayed to the LORD and laid their complaint before him, all the while aware that God already knew completely the path they were on for their individual situations. The believers who are instructed by this psalm for prayer can have confidence that the Lord also knows their situation down to the smallest detail, but it is still appropriate to voice those details before the LORD.


Psalm 142 "4 I looked on [my] right hand, and beheld, but [there was] no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul. 5 I cried to thee, O LORD: I said, Thou [art] my refuge [and] my portion in the land of the living."

COMMENTS: When David went to Gath he was placing himself before people who had more than enough reason to want to see him dead, but he had just escaped from the king of his own people who had sent men to his house to lie in wait to kill him. He found himself completely alone with no immediate place of refuge in mind, and felt there could be traps set for him wherever he went. There was no one with him (at his right hand) to provide even the slightest solace. Perhaps more than at any other time thus far in his life he desperately cried out to the LORD declaring God as his only refuge, and at this time he possessed nothing else but his life. David had given all glory to the LORD for the victories he had early in his life, but when King Saul became his unrelenting mortal enemy only out of jealousy and fear of losing his throne, David began to struggle somewhat in his faith.

The following excerpt of another Psalm that deals with David's flight from King Saul demonstrates that David began with confidence in the LORD as his own resources for refuge began to disappear. Psalm 59 "1 To the chief Musician, Al-taschith, Michtam of David; when Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him. Deliver me from my enemies, O my God: defend me from them that rise up against me. 2 Deliver me from the workers of iniquity, and save me from bloody men. 3 For lo, they lie in wait for my soul: the mighty are gathered against me; not [for] my transgression, nor [for] my sin, O LORD. ... 16 But I will sing of thy power; yes, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning: for thou hast been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble. 17 To thee, O my strength, will I sing: for God [is] my defense, [and] the God of my mercy."

Another psalm calls the believer in God to sing of the most reliable source of refuge and strength. Psalm 46 "1 To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, A Song upon Alamoth. God [is] our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore will we not fear, though the earth shall be removed, and though the mountains shall be carried into the midst of the sea; 3 [Though] its waters shall roar [and] be disturbed, [though] the mountains shake with the swelling of it. Selah. ... 10 Be still, and know that I [am] God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. 11 The LORD of hosts [is] with us; the God of Jacob [is] our refuge. Selah."
In the most chaotic and threatening circumstances imaginable we can be calmed by the reality that God is with us and he is the refuge of our soul.


Psalm 142 "6 Attend to my cry; for I am brought very low: deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I. 7 Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall encompass me; for thou wilt deal bountifully with me."

COMMENTS: David gave testimony throughout his lifetime that he believed the LORD would deliver him from those who wanted to take his life. The following verses from another Psalm penned by David speaks of his trust for deliverance from enemies. Psalm 27 "12 Deliver me not over to the will of my enemies: for false witnesses have risen against me, and such as breathe out cruelty. 13 I had fainted , unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. 14 Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he will strengthen thy heart: wait, I say, on the LORD."

When King Saul was pursuing David an encounter at the cave of Engedi demonstrated that David's trust for deliverance was in the LORD, not in King Saul. 1 Samuel 24 "11 Moreover, my father, see, yes, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand: for in that I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not, know thou and see that [there is] neither evil nor transgression in my hand, and I have not sinned against thee; yet thou huntest my soul to take it. 12 The LORD judge between me and thee, and the LORD avenge me of thee: but my hand shall not be upon thee. 13 As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but my hand shall not be upon thee. 14 After whom is the king of Israel come out? after whom dost thou pursue? after a dead dog, after a flea? 15 The LORD therefore be judge, and judge between me and thee, and see, and plead my cause, and deliver me out of thy hand."

David had a second opportunity to kill Saul when he crept into the camp while all the men with Saul were asleep. He would not harm Saul, but left the camp then called to Saul to show evidence that he had been there. 1 Samuel 26 "22 And David answered and said, Behold the king's spear! and let one of the young men come over and take it. 23 The LORD render to every man his righteousness and his faithfulness: for the LORD delivered thee into [my] hand to-day, but I would not stretch forth my hand against the LORD'S anointed. 24 And behold, as thy life was precious this day in my eyes, so let my life be precious in the eyes of the LORD, and let him deliver me out of all tribulation." Again David voiced his trust in the LORD for deliverance from his enemies rather than by himself or by any other means.

In this Psalm 142 David asks that his soul be brought out of captivity so he could freely praise the LORD, and a verse in Psalm 143 has a very similar content. Psalm 143 "11 Revive me, O LORD, for thy name's sake: for thy righteousness' sake bring my soul out of trouble." In both cases the author of the psalm wanted the result of the request for rescue to also bring praise and glory to the LORD. As David closed with the last verse of Psalm 142 he expressed confidence that the LORD would deal bountifully with him, and he would be in the company of other saints. In another psalm David stated that he would sing to the LORD because of abundant blessing. Psalm 13 "6 I will sing to the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me." If we give praise to the LORD with confidence even in hard times, we may be among others who share in David's point of view as expressed in the following. Psalm 116 "6 The LORD preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. 7 Return to thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee. 8 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. 9 I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living."


Lord, it has been a long time since I was completely alone and in such anguish of heart that I actually spoke aloud to you of how circumstances had completely overwhelmed my spirit. I was not facing threats to my life as David wrote in this psalm, but I did feel that I could not overcome my problems and felt that no one else could help me. I had not previously made an open confession and asked for your mercy, but you knew my path in life with little desire to press on. Despite my weakness of faith you answered my call, and that began my trust in you, Lord, to be my refuge for all of life's difficulties. You have become my irreplaceable portion in the land of the living. I now have the confidence that you, Lord, will always be my strength and my refuge even though my faith may falter at times because my true struggle is not against flesh and blood, but the powers of evil in the present world. Lord, you have dealt bountifully with me and I have now enjoyed for years the company of others who have the righteousness you supply by grace through faith. I praise you for your unequalled love and mercy, and I want my life to show the confidence I have in the coming of your eternal kingdom. Hallelujah and amen!

Published 26 July 2015