David tells us when he wrote this psalm. He composed it during the period before he became king when he was on the run for his life from Saul, described in the opening verses of 2 Samuel 22. Another psalm from this period is Psalm 57, but it looks as if 142 was the earlier because in it David is alone, which suggests that he composed it before he was joined by others.
Although he had been assured of great things when Samuel anointed him as the next king, there were no signs that indicated they were about to be fulfilled. Instead providence was pointing to the possibility that Samuel had been wrong in his predictions. So what could disappointed and isolated David do? He could turn to his God and look for divine comfort. Is that not a challenge to us when we find ourselves perplexed by providence?
The first detail that we note is the depth of longing in David’s heart for divine deliverance. Note the verbs that David uses: cry out, plead, pour out, and tell. They describe strong energy, urgent desperation, effusion of words, and great detail of explanation. Are they not a wonderful description of earnest prayer? And he has a source of comfort in his distress. Although he is fragile and about to faint, he is aware of the faithfulness of God.
A second detail that David reveals is his sense of loneliness. It is interesting to observe how David speaks to God. His example encourages us to speak accurately when we come into the Lord’s presence and talk to him about our situations. We should not minimize or maximize our current experiences. Instead we should say exactly what our circumstances are. David tells the Lord about the unseen danger that he faces. He tells the Lord that places of safety have disappeared. David was at the end of his and others’ resources. He had come to the point where he realised that he had been abandoned by everyone apart from God. David sensed danger, opposition and isolation. What else could he do but turn to the Lord?
Yet David reveals a third detail, one that is very striking. What should we say to our God when we are in such times? We should tell him that he is our All. David does that when he says that the Lord is his refuge and his portion in the land of the living. What did David mean by ‘refuge’? Clearly he means complete safety.
But if that was all that David said, it would seem that all he was concerned about was his own security. Of course, David was not like that. He did not only want the Lord for what he could give, he also wanted the Lord for what he is, and therefore he says to his God, ‘You are my portion in the land of the living.’ David had all that God is and all that God would give him. He had realised that everything came to him by divine grace and was given freely, but that nothing was given to him separate from God himself.
Why did David want released from his difficult circumstances? After all, God could keep him safe where he was and in fact did so for a considerable period of time. There was one thing that David could not do where he was and that was to join God’s people as they worshipped him at the tabernacle. He longed to have the liberty of participating in thanksgiving to God. He knew that when that would happen, the Lord’s people would join him in giving thanks to God. David here is reminding us of the importance of public worship, and how we should miss it when adverse circumstances prevent us from participating in it.