Though the Jews ultimately described David in heroic terms, fear, doubt, and even something close to desperation characterized him numerous times throughout his life. He spent his early adulthood on the run from Saul and revisited some of these same feelings decades later during the rebellion of Absalom. Thus, while the specific nature of the problem varies from generation to generation and from person to person, turmoil, tests, temptation, and tragedy remain constants in the nature of life. We share these challenges in common and therefore the emotions that often follow should feel familiar as well. The heading of Psalm 142 somewhat generically describes just such a circumstance in David’s life, “A Contemplation of David. A Prayer when he was in the cave.”
After David pretended madness and fled from Achish, he found refuge in “the cave of Adullam” where the distressed and discontented of the land joined with him and looked to him for leadership (1 Sam. 22:1-2). Although David lived among the caves in the area of En Gedi for some time that followed (1 Sam. 24:1-3), the tenor of this psalm seems to capture that original raw emotion of a situation desperate and dangerous. When he left Achish in the land of Israel’s enemies, he saw himself as a man without a country despite being destined to lead one and defeat the other. Thus, following his harrowing escape from the Philistines and before his family and followers joined him, David found himself truly alone in this world. Forced to leave the Philistines, hunted by Saul, and potentially surrounded by numerous people all too willing to betray his presence, the fear and emotions of the moment overwhelmed him (Psa. 142:3). When his hiding place was discovered, all sense of safety fled, and David felt as if no one recognized his plight, no one could offer him solace or refuge, and no one really cared (Psa. 142:4). But as a man of true faith, David turned his trouble over to the LORD (Psa. 142:1-2). Rather than trusting in a cave for refuge (the meaning of Abdullum), he placed his trust in the LORD (Psa. 142:5), humbly acknowledging his need, his feelings, and his request (Psa. 142:6-7a). But he closed it with unselfish purpose, “That I may praise Your name; The righteous shall surround me, For You shall deal bountifully with me” (Psa. 142:7b). Despite the sense of desperation and loneliness, David remembered that God is always there, and always cares.
At any moment in time, in my limited circle of friends upon this earth, the circumstances of life seem to drum a steady beat, challenging faith and fidelity with a vast array of circumstantial blows. Some have faced life-threatening illness, some have lost their income, some have incurred tremendous expenses, some have lost loved ones, some have endured open malice and secret rumors, and some have experienced all of these. Indeed, most have felt the impact of such things to some degree in life. It is also highly likely that we have felt along the way that no one really cared. And that makes David’s experiences so important. We should identify with his hardships so that we also can see his triumphs and therein find hope. But most of all, we should imitate his response in heartfelt prayer and grow in faith. Life does not offer eternal ease and constant comfort, but in the arms of God, we can find something even better. When you feel as if everyone has deserted you, know this: God cares. He is there for you when you are ready to turn things in life over to Him.