With my voice I cry out to Yahweh; with my voice I plead for mercy to Yahweh.
I pour out my complaint before Him; I tell my trouble before Him.
When my spirit faints within me, You know my way! In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul.
I cry to You, O Yahweh; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”
Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me!
Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to Your name! The righteous will surround me, for You will deal bountifully with me.
The constant theme of “with my voice” gives a stark image of David crying out with tears and despondent crying for God’s deliverance. In the Masoretic Hebrew text, verse 1 is actually what we read in the English, “A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A prayer.” The context for which this psalm takes place, then, is when David was hiding in the cave from King Saul, who was seeking his life to kill him.
This is a rather interesting psalm to place in this context, which we read in 1 Samuel 24. In this account, we see David as a brave and humble man, as well as a man with the utmost integrity.
As Saul is relieving himself in the same cave David is hiding, instead of killing him, David cuts off a piece of Saul’s robe and tells him, “Behold, this day your eyes have seen how Yahweh gave you today into my hand in the cave. And some told me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is Yahweh’s anointed'” (1 Samuel 24:10).
What tremendous humility and willpower it must take not to kill your enemy who is seeking to kill you, especially when you’re terrified! Of course, his reasoning for this is because Saul—in spite of his poor kingship—is God’s anointed (Samuel anointed him as king); and David would rightly not strike the Lord’s anointed.
When reading this account, I cannot help but see David as a brave, humble, and mighty warrior. Yet in this psalm, we get a glimpse of David’s weakness during this great struggle. This psalm breaks down the image we have of him as a mighty warrior, though he is certainly that. Imagine David whimpering and crying out to God for mercy with complaints of his predicament, the cave echoing with the cacophony of David’s shaking utterances. David is only human, after all.
In verses 3 and 4, David describes his hopelessness in this situation. His spirit is faint; he is weak and despondent. His enemy—Saul and his army—lays a trap before him; he receives no comfort or refuge or care from anyone. There is literally no one to whom he can turn.
Except for God.
In spite of his hopeless situation, he cries out to God. He says to God, “You are my refuge!” He not only asks for God’s deliverance, but he also expects God’s deliverance. He is expectant of God’s mercy. He says, “You will deal bountifully with me” (v. 7). This is not a command to God, but an expectant hope. David knew God would deliver him, though he did not know how. And God did deliver him. When the time was right, God leads Saul to eventually be killed in battle (1 Samuel 31).
This is a great psalm for our soldiers to pray when they’re at war. Yet for us average folk who lead simple lives, how might this psalm apply to us? It is difficult to apply since none of us have been in a situation like David’s—having a king and an entire army seeking to kill you. Yet we can all relate to David’s sense of hopelessness, whatever the situation and reasoning for our hopelessness might be.
It might be depression, addiction, or some other suffering. We might even physically call out to God and wail with bitter tears and cacophonous groaning. Like David, we don’t know how our story will end, but also like David, we know God’s promise, “You will deal bountifully with me.”
Will this be manifested in the here and now? Maybe, maybe not. That’s up to God’s will. No matter how things end up in this life, however, we all have the hope that God will deal with us bountifully with the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that [My sheep] may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).