Psalm 143 A journey into darkness.
I am back to studying darkness and came across this line:
|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.||Psa 143:3;
|We tend to read the lines above and think: ‘this is a psalm written by David: about 1000 years before Christ, 3000 years old. Sad, David must have been having a bad day.’ Little realizing that this Psalm is echoing the dark heart of all men. This is a prophetic lament for all ages; a prophetic mirror held up for all time. It puts into words feelings that I feel today.|
|[[A Psalm of David.]] Hear my prayer, O LORD, give ear to my supplications: in thy faithfulness answer me, [and] in thy righteousness. David starts as though God is asleep and needs a little encouragement to listen to him. What he is actually saying is ‘God I feel like you are not there, I need answers please. I have been asking you for help but you have not come through for me.’ He appeals to God’s righteousness. He is saying: ’if you are the righteous judge of all the earth why are you so slack?’ When we read it in the KJV it sounds highly respectable but in fact David is pulling no punches.||Psa 143:1;|
|enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified. – What is being said here is: ‘don’t be hard on me God, I know I am guilty if you decide to judge according to the book. I need grace, unmerited favour not justice. I want a good deal God, I know I don’t deserve one but that’s what I need right now because…’||Psa 143:2;|
|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. What he is saying is I am feeling persecuted. The word used for persecuted here means to pursue, to harry, dog like an animal being herded and hurried. His soul is being pursued by an enemy. This enemy is from a word meaning to breath over, puffing and blowing in anger and rage. So, he is being chased by an antagonist that is breathing down his neck, an angry and vengeful pursuer. The adversary has already broken him, shattered his life like a mirror onto the rocks. Pursued to a dark place he is seated there. he hath made me to dwell in darkness … ‘Yashab’ has the meaning:- dwell, this is not just a pop into darkness for a cup of tea kind of visit. This is a prolonged stay. A set up house, sit down, get comfortable, this is going to be a long haul kind of stay;
So what is this darkness that he is dwelling in? We know that it is a dark place a place of obscurity. We can assume that it is a place where it is difficult to see. It is a place where the vision is limited but he gives us another pointer: as those that have been long dead. Literally, dead from antiquity, eternity, so this guy feels that he has been consigned to this darkness inhabited by the dead of all ages. He feels he is living in a world among the dead.
He is obviously alive but is the living dead, a zombie. But this is too simplistic as it is not just a physical state it is his ‘nephesh’, his vitality that has been driven to darkness. His soul is dwelling in darkness.
|Psa 143:3 KJV
|… my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate. He along with others driven to darkness of the soul feel overwhelmed. Literally covered with a garment. His ‘ruwach’ spirit is covered. Along with David many of those who have not chosen darkness find themselves driven like animals to a place where their spirit is enveloped in a suffocating blanket that cuts off the breath to their spirit, the ‘nephesh’, the vitality is chased to darkness. The ‘go’ has gone. He describes what is happening… his heart is desolate. The heart, the ‘lob’, the mind the seat of passions, rationality, wisdom, resolution, will, memory, all devastated.
This speaks to me because this is real today in the lives of tribulants that experience darkness. It is as if the lifeblood has been sucked out of the insides. He says: my heart within me is desolate the words ‘within me’ are from the root meaning to sever. So he feels divided, cut off from his heart, his life, his passion. A death has taken place; it is a living death, dead inside. The word ‘shamah’ here translated as desolate means to be stupefied, amazed, astonished, awestruck, devastated. He feels the darkness within profoundly. Like a driven animal to this dark place he has lost the capacity to make sense of what is going on astonished and awestruck he sits his life decimated.
|What is to be done when one is in darkness? I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands. Tribulants are forced to consider God and themselves. They are forced to reflect. He no doubt reflects on better days when he was not a tribulant. Like a naughty boy on time out, he sits amazed and stupefied in darkness where the vision for the future is not clear and the verve and vigor has left.||Psa 143:5;|
|I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul [thirsteth] after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah. Appealing for water in a desert, those in darkness thirst for relief: God. Being in a state of privation in a dry and thirsty land when the water of life has dried up leaving the spirit failing is not pleasant; God is relief.||Psa 143:6;|
|Hear me speedily, O LORD: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit. Here again we hear David voicing what all tribulants think. ‘hear me speedily, O Lord.’ ‘How long is this going to last.’ It is easy to say ‘how long’ when the outcome is known, when there is an end in sight. Even death is tolerable if you know when the end is. David speaks for all those not certain if the Lord even hears them, trapped in the land of uncertainty, the land of the forgotten. At the end of his tether, not knowing how long this will continue, feeling his spirit fading, he begs God not to hide from him.
It is not bad enough that David feels that God is not listening to him he feels God is hiding from him. He says ‘please don’t hide from me, I feel myself slipping into that bad place ‘the pit’. Those who have been in a dark place, the pit can feel when the slide begins and as it picks up pace there is a panic that sets in…. I’m heading to the darkness of the pit… my spirit faileth. He is saying ‘catch me before I slip into this black hole, I am slipping away and I don’t have what it takes to pull myself out of this dive for the bottom. The ‘bowr pit’ is the dark place that Jeremiah found himself in, a metaphor for depression, the bowr pit is dark, dank, slippery and claustrophobic. Churchill called his trips to the pit ‘black dog’: somehow darkness and depression are linked. The bowr pit is also associated with death and the dead. This pit of darkness is not just linked to the eye, it is also a place of black noise; noise that blinds and blocks out the sound of joy, noise that fills the head with panic and fear. Noise that blocks and blinds the spirit from freshness and infilling.
|Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee. Desperate for rescue from the slide to darkness he wants to hear a word of mercy from God, he wants some direction, some guidance. More than this he is saying ‘I know and you God realise that I am on the slippery slope to the pit, I don’t want to go there, there is a better way.’ This ‘derek’ way is the well trodden path the path of the sure footed, a path that I know, a path where I am sure of the direction, a path with a future, a path that is full of hope and mercy. This is what he wants to hear in the morning. He is saying ‘I take my ‘nephesh’ soul my vitality, my living essence in my hands and lift it up to you as an offering to you God.’ Early in the morning he needs a fresh start a new beginning.||Psa 143:8;|
|Deliver me, O LORD, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me. Rescue me!
In the original there are only four words to this verse. Rescue, Jehovah, enemies, and cover. Out of this we see him looking for the covering protection of Jehovah because of his enemies. The covering we are all seeking is a complete covering like a garment covering us from head to foot, shielding us from the attack. As we have seen previously the attack is not only from the outside.
|Teach me to do thy will; for thou [art] my God: thy spirit [is] good; lead me into the land of uprightness. Simply put he acknowledges that he is off the path, he needs instruction and teaching. He asks God to lead him to the land of uprightness. But let’s not get too excited about the sitting down in the classroom and getting a lesson. That is not what David is talking about. ‘Teach’, ‘lámad’ which has a depth of meaning which surprises and also shocks. Gesenius gives us the following: to train, to learn e.g. war but it has its root in ‘to chastise’. In the Arabic it means to beat with a rod, especially beasts of burden, from this we get the Hebrew ox goad, hence to discipline and train cattle and recruits for war, and from this we find recruits being accustomed to anything. Used of the thing to which any one is trained.
Let’s unpack this little parcel as it relates to the Psalm. David ‘got’ something that not many of us do: What we become accustomed to through repeated chastisement is what shapes character. Like an ox or soldier being trained it is a process not a theroretical lesson. It is a series of hard chastisements in the experiential that accustoms one and so teaches. David is basically repeating what he says in other areas of scripture. Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.
We tend to think that if we appeal to God’s justice we will be A OK, little realising that if judged fairly and justly we would be condemned. We are a mixture of metals. Along with the gold we have a lot of base metals like lead and tin that will sink us. David is saying, I want the fire of God to expose the irredeemable and burn it off so that I may emerge pure and useful. The recruit and the untrained ox has to go through a refining and training process before they emerge as useful. It is not a one day course.
|Lets look at the rest of the verse: for thou [art] my God: thy spirit [is] good; lead me into the land of uprightness. David is prepared to be trained because he can trust God to do what is right. He is saying ‘Elohim, my God I can trust you because your ‘ruwach’ Spirit is pure goodness and will never be malicious or nasty. I can rely on you: you are a good governor a good leader. I have no fear that you will mislead me.’ He calls on God to guide him to uprightness a place of justice and concord.||Psa 143;10;|
|Quicken me, O LORD, for thy name’s sake: for thy righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble. Here is a man who is writing a psalm asking Jehovah for life, saying ‘please give me the breath of life.’ What is he asking for? He is saying ‘God I need the breath of your spirit to give me a fresh breath of life, not the plodding darkness I have been in for such a long time but a renewed reinvigorated lightness of heart, not because I deserve anything but because of your goodness, your righteousness’ sake. Please bring my soul out of trouble.’
He in trouble: We saw at the beginning of the psalm he uses a word ‘tsarah’ that explains it further. It is the female rival: her adversary provoked her sore, for to make her fret… Trouble, vexatious, jealous, that exploits weakness and insecurity seeking to break down and destroy. Like Hannah he goes to the Lord knowing that only he can deliver. He appeals to the name of the Lord Jehovah trusting like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that God will protect the honour of his name.
|And of thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul: for I [am] thy servant. He reinforces his claim to God’s protection by saying: ‘don’t forget that I belong to you; I’m your servant and if you don’t protect me then people will say that God doesn’t even protect his own. This is the same argument that Moses used when God wanted to destroy the Israelites.
Other translations express ‘cut off’ better: The NIV translates it as ‘silence my enemies’. I am not the only one that feels the darkness with voices of the enemy. The constant poking of Peninnah was like a goad to Hannah. She vexed her. David also felt the ‘tsarah’ rival to his soul.
And destroy all them that afflict my soul. He asks for God’s ‘chesed’ mercy and at the same time asks for the destruction of his enemies. He actually asks that they be like lost animals in the desert, abandoned and vulnerable.
|Note firstly that this is a psalm to be quoted, sung, or recited as part of worship. I think that much of worship is an effort to make men and women feel better about themselves and the church. I often feel out of touch with the mood and atmosphere in church. It is almost as though my reality does not fit with the lightness and superficiality of worship.
When I read the psalms I encounter a reality and depth that speaks to my heart. It is real, calls a spade a spade and does not hold back on God. The psalms complain loudly to him, accusing him of not listening, ignoring their pain, being negligent of his duties. Lamentation in scripture is real; men in pain and frustration lash out at all round them.
God gave us this record of the lamentations for us to use in worship and in daily life. As my mate Art says: “I believe we have to normalize lamenting again, recover it and allow it to become a legitimate theme in our worship in the context of western culture’s denial, suppression and drugging of pain.”