Verses 1–6

Here, I. David humbly begs to be heard (Ps. 143:1), not as if he questioned it, but he earnestly desired it, and was in care about it, for, having desired it, and was in care about it, for having directed his prayer, he looked up to see how it sped, Hab. 2:1. He is a suppliant to his God, and he begs that his requests may be granted: Hear my prayer; give ear to my supplications. He is an appellant against his persecutors, and he begs that his case may be brought to hearing and that God will give judgment upon it, in his faithfulness and righteousness, as the Judge of right and wrong. Or, “Answer my petitions in thy faithfulness, according to the promises thou hast made, which thou wilt be just to.” We have no righteousness of our own to plead, and therefore must plead God’s righteousness, the word of promise which he has freely given us and caused us to hope in.

II. He humbly begs not to be proceeded against in strict justice, Ps. 143:2. He seems here, if not to correct, yet to explain, his plea (Ps. 143:1), Deliver me in thy righteousness; “I mean,” says he, “the righteous promises of the gospel, not the righteous threatenings of the law; if I be answered according to the righteousness of this broken covenant of innocency, I am quite undone;” and therefore, 1. His petition is, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant; do not deal with me in strict justice, as I deserve to be dealt with.” In this prayer we must own ourselves to be God’s servants, bound to obey him, accountable to him, and solicitous to obtain his favour, and we must approve ourselves to him. We must acknowledge that in many instances we have offended him, and have come short of our duty to him, that he might justly enquire into our offences, and proceed against us for them according to law, and that, if he should do so, judgment would certainly go against us; we have nothing to move in arrest or mitigation of it, but execution would be taken out and awarded and then we should be ruined for ever. But we must encourage ourselves with a hope that there is mercy and forgiveness with God, and be earnest with him for the benefit of that mercy. “Enter not into judgment with thy servant, for thou hast already entered into judgment with thy Son, and laid upon him the iniquity of us all. Enter not into judgment with thy servant, for thy servant enters into judgment with himself;” and, if we will judge ourselves, we shall not be judged. 2. His plea is, “In thy sight shall no man living be justified upon those terms, for no man can plead innocency nor any righteousness of his own, either that he has not sinned or that he does not deserve to die for his sins; nor that he has any satisfaction of his own to offer;” nay, if God contend with us, we are not able to answer him for one of a thousand, Job 9:3; 15:20. David, before he prays for the removal of his trouble, prays for the pardon of his sin, and depends upon mere mercy for it.

III. He complains of the prevalency of his enemies against him (Ps. 143:3): “Saul, that great enemy, has persecuted my soul, sought my life, with a restless malice, and has carried the persecution so far that he has already smitten it down to the ground. Though I am not yet under ground, I am struck to the ground, and that is next door to it; he has forced me to dwell in darkness, not only in dark caves, but in dark thoughts and apprehensions, in the clouds of melancholy, as helpless and hopeless as those that have been long dead. Lord, let me find mercy with thee, for I find no mercy with men. They condemn me; but, Lord, do not thou condemn me. Amos not I an object of thy compassion, fit to be appeared for; and is not my enemy an object of thy displeasure, fit to be appeared against?”

IV. He bemoans the oppression of his mind, occasioned by his outward troubles (Ps. 143:4): Therefore is my spirit overpowered and overwhelmed within me, and I am almost plunged in despair; when without are fightings within are fears, and those fears greater tyrants and oppressors than Saul himself and not so easily out-run. It is sometimes the lot of the best men to have their spirits for a time almost overwhelmed and their hearts desolate, and doubtless it is their infirmity. David was not only a great saint, but a great soldier, and yet even he was sometimes ready to faint in a day of adversity. Howl, fir-trees, if the cedars be shaken.

V. He applies himself to the use of proper means for the relief of his troubled spirit. He had no force to muster up against the oppression of the enemy, but, if he can keep possession of nothing else, he will do what he can to keep possession of his own soul and to preserve his inward peace. In order to this, 1. He looks back, and remembers the days of old (Ps. 143:5), God’s former appearances for his afflicted people and for him in particular. It has been often a relief to the people of God in their straits to think of the wonders which their fathers told them of, Ps. 77:5, 11. 2. He looks round, and takes notice of the works of God in the visible creation, and the providential government of the world: I meditate on all thy works. Many see them, but do not see the footsteps of God’s wisdom, power, and goodness in them, and do not receive the benefit they might by them because they do not meditate upon them; they do not dwell on that copious curious subject, but soon quit it, as if they had exhausted it, when they have scarcely touched upon it. I muse on, or (as some read it) I discourse of, the operation of thy hands, how great, how good, it is! The more we consider the power of God the less we shall fear the face or force of man, Isa. 51:12, 13. 3. He looks up with earnest desires towards God and his favour (Ps. 143:6): “I stretch forth my hands unto thee, as one begging an alms, and big with expectation to receive something great, standing ready to lay hold on it and bid it welcome. My soul thirsteth after thee; it is to thee (so the word is), entire for thee, intent on thee; it is as a thirsty land, which, being parched with excessive heat, gapes for rain; so do I need, so do I crave, the support and refreshment of divine consolations under my afflictions, and nothing else will relieve me.” This is the best course we can take when our spirits are overwhelmed; and justly do those sink under their load who will not take such a ready way as this to ease themselves.