This psalm of David was used when the memorial offering took place. This offering involved burning a portion of a sacrifice on the altar, with the ascending smoke symbolising the request of the offerer that the Lord would remember him. It is clear from the psalm that David sensed a distance existed between himself and God.
It is evident that the psalmist had gone through a period of divine chastisement. He felt as if he had undergone an onslaught by God (his arrows and hand in verse 2). The chastisement had come because of his sins. Now he realised that his wrong actions had been foolish. They had weakened him spiritually and he felt that he was isolated and alone (vv. 1-8).
Yet in his weakness, he turns to the one who has chastised him. The difference between chastisement and mere punishment is that chastisement is like a magnet which draws the chastened person to the Chastiser. Just as a child will run to a parent who has scolded him, so a true believer speaks eagerly and earnestly, sometimes desperately, to the God whose commands have been broken (v. 9).
In speaking to God, the psalmist relates in graphic language the effects of God’s chastisement (vv. 10-20). His physical strength has diminished, his emotional stamina has disappeared, his friends have abandoned him, his opponents increase their antagonism, and he has no ability to refute them. Yet he can turn to the Lord and ask for divine protection, even as he confesses his sin to God and endures the strong provocation of enemies.
The psalm closes with the author making urgent requests for divine help (vv. 20-21). As far as the words of the psalm itself are concerned, there is no statement to indicate that he was heard by God. This absence made it a suitable psalm for those who longed for God to notice them and come to their aid. No doubt, the psalmist was heard by God eventually, and so will all who persevere in praying to him.