Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Cry Sent Forth from the Prison to the Best of Friends
This the last of the eight Davidic Psalms, which are derived by their inscriptions from the time of the persecution by Saul (vid., on Ps 34), is inscribed: A Meditation by David, when he was in the cave, a Prayer. Of these eight Psalms, Psa 52:1-9 and Psa 54:1-7 also bear the name of Maskı̂l (vid., on Psa 32:1-11); and in this instance תּפּלּה (which occurs besides as an inscription only in Psa 90:1; Psa 102:1; Psa 3:1) is further added, which looks like an explanation of the word maskı̂l (not in use out of the range of Psalm-poetry). The article of במערה, as in Psa 57:1, points to the cave of Adullam (1 Sam. 22) or the cave of Engedi (1 Sam. 24), which latter, starting from a narrow concealed entrance, forms such a labyrinthine maze of passages and vaults that the torches and lines of explorers have not to the present time been able to reach the extremities of it.
The Psalm does not contain any sure signs of a post-Davidic age; still it appears throughout to be an imitation of older models, and pre-eminently by means of Psa 142:2. (cf. Psa 77:2.) and Psa 142:4 (cf. Psa 77:4) it comes into a relation of dependence to Ps 77, which is also noticeable in Psa 143:1-12 (cf. Psa 142:5 with Psa 77:12.). The referring back of the two Psalms to David comes under one and the same judgment.
The emphasis of the first two lines rests upon אל־ה. Forsaken by all created beings, he confides in Jahve. He turns to Him in pathetic and importunate prayer (זעק, the parallel word being התחנּן, as in Psa 30:9), and that not merely inwardly (Exo 14:15), but with his voice (vid., on Psa 3:5) - for audible prayer reacts soothingly, strengtheningly, and sanctifyingly upon the praying one - he pours out before Him his trouble which distracts his thoughts (שׁפך שׂיח as in Psa 102:1, cf. Psa 62:9; Psa 64:2; Sa1 1:16), he lays open before Him everything that burdens and distresses him. Not as though He did not also know it without all this; on the contrary, when his spirit (רוּחי as in Psa 143:4; Psa 77:4, cf. נפשׁי Jon 2:7, Psa 107:5, לבּי Psa 61:3) within him (עלי, see Psa 42:5) is enshrouded and languishes, just this is his consolation, that Jahve is intimately acquainted with his way together with the dangers that threaten him at every step, and therefore also understands how to estimate the title (right) and meaning of his complaints. The Waw of ואתּה is the same as in Kg1 8:36, cf. Ps 35. Instead of saying: then I comfort myself with the fact that, etc., he at once declares the fact with which he comforts himself. Supposing this to be the case, there is no need for any alteration of the text in order to get over that which is apparently incongruous in the relation of Psa 142:4 to Psa 142:4.
The prayer of the poet now becomes deep-breathed and excited, inasmuch as he goes more minutely into the details of his straitened situation. Everywhere, whithersoever he has to go (cf. on Psa 143:8), the snares of craftily calculating foes threaten him. Even God's all-seeing eye will not discover any one who would right faithfully and carefully interest himself in him. הבּיט, look! is a graphic hybrid form of הבּט and הבּיט, the usual and the rare imperative form; cf. הביא Sa1 20:40 (cf. Jer 17:18), and the same modes of writing the inf. absol. in Jdg 1:28; Amo 9:8, and the fut. conv. in Eze 40:3. מכּיר is, as in Rut 2:19, cf. Ps 10, one who looks kindly upon any one, a considerate (cf. the phrase הכּיר פּנים) well-wisher and friend. Such an one, if he had one, would be עמד על־ימינו or מימינו (Psa 16:8), for an open attack is directed to the arms-bearing right side (Psa 109:6), and there too the helper in battle (Psa 110:5) and the defender or advocate (Psa 109:31) takes his place in order to cover him who is imperilled (Psa 121:5). But then if God looks in that direction, He will find him, who is praying to Him, unprotected. Instead of ואין one would certainly have sooner expected אשׁר or כי as the form of introducing the condition in which he is found; but Hitzig's conjecture, הבּיט ימין וראה, "looking for days and seeing," gives us in the place of this difficulty a confusing half-Aramaism in ימין = יומין in the sense of ימים in Dan 8:27; Neh 1:4. Ewald's rendering is better: "though I look to the right hand and see (וראה), yet no friend appears for me;" but this use of the inf. absol. with an adversative apodosis is without example. Thus therefore the pointing appears to have lighted upon the correct idea, inasmuch as it recognises here the current formula הבּט וּראה, e.g., Job 35:5; Lam 5:1. The fact that David, although surrounded by a band of loyal subjects, confesses to having no true fiend, is to be understood similarly to the language of Paul when he says in Phi 2:20 : "I have no man like-minded." All human love, since sin has taken possession of humanity, is more or less selfish, and all fellowship of faith and of love imperfect; and there are circumstances in life in which these dark sides make themselves felt overpoweringly, so that a man seems to himself to be perfectly isolated and turns all the more urgently to God, who alone is able to supply the soul's want of some object to love, whose love is absolutely unselfish, and unchangeable, and unbeclouded, to whom the soul can confide without reserve whatever burdens it, and who not only honestly desires its good, but is able also to compass it in spite of every obstacle. Surrounded by bloodthirsty enemies, and misunderstood, or at least not thoroughly understood, by his friends, David feels himself broken off from all created beings. On this earth every kind of refuge is for him lost (the expression is like Job 11:20). There is no one there who should ask after or care for his soul, and should right earnestly exert himself for its deliverance. Thus, then, despairing of all visible things, he cries to the Invisible One. He is his "refuge" (Psa 91:9) and his "portion" (Psa 16:5; Psa 73:26), i.e., the share in a possession that satisfies him. To be allowed to call Him his God - this it is which suffices him and outweighs everything. For Jahve is the Living One, and he who possesses Him as his own finds himself thereby "in the land of the living" (Psa 27:13; Psa 52:7). He cannot die, he cannot perish.
His request now ascends all the more confident of being answered, and becomes calm, being well-grounded in his feebleness and the superiority of his enemies, and aiming at the glorifying of the divine Name. In Psa 142:7 רנּתי calls to mind Psa 17:1; the first confirmation, Psa 79:8, and the second, Psa 18:18. But this is the only passage in the whole Psalter where the poet designates the "distress" in which he finds himself as a prison (מסגּר). V. 8b brings the whole congregation of the righteous in in the praising of the divine Name. The poet therefore does not after all find himself so absolutely alone, as it might seem according to Psa 142:5. He is far from regarding himself as the only righteous person. He is only a member of a community or church whose destiny is interwoven with his own, and which will glory in his deliverance as its own; for "if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it" (Co1 12:26). We understand the differently interpreted יכתּירוּ after this "rejoicing with" (συγχαίρει). The lxx, Syriac, and Aquilaz render: the righteous wait for me; but to wait is כּתּר and not הכתּיר. The modern versions, on the other hand, almost universally, like Luther after Felix Pratensis, render: the righteous shall surround me (flock about me), in connection with which, as Hengstenberg observes, בּי denotes the tender sympathy they fell with him: crowding closely upon me. But there is no instance of a verb of surrounding (אפף, סבב, סבב, עוּד, עטר, הקּיף) taking בּ; the accusative stands with הכתּיר in Hab 1:4, and כּתּר in Psa 22:13, in the signification cingere. Symmachus (although erroneously rendering: τὸ ὄνομά σου στεφανώσονται δίκαιοι), Jerome (in me coronabuntur justi), Parchon, Aben-Ezra, Coccejus, and others, rightly take יכתּירוּ as a denominative from כּתר, to put on a crown or to crown (cf. Pro 14:18): on account of me the righteous shall adorn themselves as with crowns, i.e., shall triumph, that Thou dealest bountifully with me (an echo of Psa 13:6). According to passages like Ps 64:11; Psa 40:17, one might have expected בּו instead of בּי. But the close of Ps 22 (Psa 22:23.), cf. Psa 140:12., shows that בי is also admissible. The very fact that David contemplates his own destiny and the destiny of his foes in a not merely ideal but foreordainedly causal connection with the general end of the two powers that stand opposed to one another in the world, belongs to the characteristic impress of the Psalms of David that come from the time of Saul's persecution.