Prayer of a Penitent in Distress
1 [b]A psalm of David.
O Lord, hear my prayer,
incline your ear to my supplications.
In your faithfulness respond to me
with your righteousness.
2 Do not subject your servant to your judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.[c]
3 [d]An enemy has stalked me unrelentingly
and crushed me into the ground;
he has left me to live in darkness[e]
like those long dead.
4 My spirit is faint within me,
and my heart[f] has succumbed to fear.
5 I remember the days of old,
reflecting on all your actions
and meditating on the works of your hands.[g]
6 I stretch out my hands[h] to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah
7 [i]Answer me quickly, O Lord,
for my spirit grows faint.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.[j]
8 At dawn[k] let me experience your kindness,
for in you I place my trust.
Show me the path I must walk,
for to you I lift up my soul.
9 Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord,
for in you I seek refuge.
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God.[l]
Let your gracious Spirit lead me
along a level path.
11 For your name’s sake,[m] O Lord, preserve my life;
in your righteousness deliver me from distress.
12 In your kindness, destroy my enemies,
and annihilate all those who oppress me,
for I am your servant.[n]
- Psalm 143:1 This is the seventh and last of the Penitential Psalms (Pss 6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; 143), probably because of verse 2, with its admission of universal guilt, the only reference to sin and forgiveness in it. Throughout the Psalter, amid praise and joy, there is the lament of the poor person who is dependent on God for everything. Here is the last pressing supplication of the sufferer who cannot despair of God, of his love and his righteousness. The true Israel, the community of the poor of the Lord, understood it even unto suffering. As Paul indicates (Rom 3:20ff), no one merits to be delivered from evil, not even the person who observes the law; one can only rely on the Lord’s unfailing love for human beings. Those who truly pray will experience the Lord’s deliverance.
There are many occasions on which we, too, can pray this simple and ardent psalm to implore divine aid. The demons and all those whom they incite never cease to threaten us, either in our material sustenance or in our physical and spiritual life.
- Psalm 143:1 The psalmist cries out to God to have mercy because of his faithfulness and righteousness, for he knows that God’s judgment could find him guilty of sin and condemn him to remain afflicted (see 130:3).
- Psalm 143:2 For no one living is righteous before you: this text is used in Rom 3:20 (see Pss 51:7; 130:3; Job 9:2; 14:3f; 15:14; Eccl 7:20).
- Psalm 143:3 The psalmist sketches the distress he suffers and is encouraged by the memory of God’s past acts of deliverance.
- Psalm 143:3 The same images are found in Ps 7:6; Lam 3:6; Mic 7:8. Darkness: see note on Ps 27:1.
- Psalm 143:4 Heart: see note on Ps 4:8.
- Psalm 143:5 See Pss 42:5; 77:6, 12f.
- Psalm 143:6 Stretch out my hands: in supplication (see Pss 44:21; 88:10; Ex 9:29). Soul: see note on Ps 6:4. Thirsts for you: see Ps 63:2.
- Psalm 143:7 The psalmist here appends a mosaic of prayers for deliverance, guidance, and commitment to the Lord.
- Psalm 143:7 See similar phrases in Pss 10:1; 28:1; 69:18; 84:3; 88:5; 102:3; 141:1.
- Psalm 143:8 At dawn: see notes on Pss 57; 57:9; see also Pss 17:15; 90:14; 101:8; 108:3. Kindness: see note on Ps 6:5. I lift up my soul: see Pss 25:1; 27:8; 32:6; 33:22; 86:4.
- Psalm 143:10 Teach me . . . my God: see Pss 25:4f; 118:28. Spirit: the divine Spirit was regarded as a force and not yet as a person (see Ps 51:13; Neh 9:20; Ezek 36:27). Lead . . . path: see note on Ps 26:12 (see also Pss 27:11; 139:24).
- Psalm 143:11 For your name’s sake: see Ps 25:11. Deliver me from distress: see Pss 31:5; 119:25, 88; 142:8.
- Psalm 143:12 The psalmist calls upon the Lord to deal righteously with his adversaries, reflecting a hope that is expressed in the imprecatory psalms (see notes on Pss 5:11; 35; see also Ps 54:5). Kindness: see note on Ps 6:5.