“Look to the right and see; for there is no one who regards me; there is no escape for me; no one cares for my soul.” - Psalm 142:4
(This article is adapted from a recent sermon.) From the ancient explanatory note at the beginning of Psalm 142 we learn that it was composed by David “when he was in a cave”. What is this referring to? In 1 Samuel 22:1-2 we read, “So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father's household heard of it, they went down there to him. Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him.” David had been anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next king over Israel and the current king, Saul, was determined to kill David to prevent this from happening. From being a highly placed member of King Saul’s court and a commander in the army, David became a hunted fugitive, hiding in a cave (actually a group of caves) in the Judean wilderness.
Psalm 142 is relatively short, just seven verses, but it is full of emotion, deep feelings of anguish, anxiety, and frustration. The Bible is wonderfully adapted to help us face the realities of life and this psalm is a good example of this. At the heart of it is verse 4 in which David shows how very desperate he had become. We are somewhat prepared for this by what he said in verse 3 about his spirit being “overwhelmed”. It reminds us of 42:7 where the Psalmist says, “Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.” If you have ever been knocked off your feet by an ocean wave or been overturned in rapids, this is the emotional equivalent. You feel out of control, helpless before the onslaught of sadness, fear and confusion.
Yet there is something very odd about David’s complaint that “no one cares for my soul.” It is true that Saul and all his forces are arrayed against David but he is not alone. He has four hundred people with him in the wilderness, including his family, sharing in his sufferings. Why does he feel so alone and so friendless? We could chalk it up to a lack of awareness. He feels so depressed and desperate he fails to see the many who are sharing his troubles and siding with his cause. This may be partly the case but there is something more here for us to consider. The truth is that there really is no other human being on earth who feels what we feel and sees the world through our eyes. There is an old spiritual that says, “You must walk this lonesome valley, you have to walk it by yourself. Oh nobody else can walk it for you; you must walk it by yourself.” Now this song is a spiritual. That means it is meant to encourage you to have faith in God. If so, this is a strange way to do it! Yet it is comforting to realize that the feeling of loneliness and lack of understanding is not yours alone. Others have walked “this lonesome valley” – like David here, as expressed in his psalm.
There is another thing to see here. David says to God, “Look to the right and see…” The right side here is David’s right side. Why the right side? This is the side in which he would hold his sword and the side that an enemy would seek to disable, especially if he held a shield in his left hand. It was also the side to which one’s friends would gather to defend and guard. In court or in public it would be the side at which your defender or advocate would stand. This is why David said in Psalm 16, “I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (verse 8) In our text, Psalm 142:4, David is appealing to the Lord. He knows that no one truly understands what he is going through and can thoroughly sympathize with him. While it is not literally true that no one cares for his soul, it is true that no one, except the Lord, cares for him as he does for himself – no, more than he does for himself! No one understands and no one loves us as God does, not even ourselves. He knows us far better than we know ourselves. As David says in Psalm 139 – “You… are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all.” No wonder he goes on to say, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.” (verses 3-4, 6)
God not only knows how we feel, He feels what we feel! He knows everything and He knows it not merely by inference, as we know the feelings of others, but by direct experience. Yes, it is still your experience and not His but He knows your feelings as such. This is what Jesus felt on the cross and even before that when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He felt the weight of our sins and the alienation of our souls from God and it was a pain that nearly killed Him even before He was nailed to the cross. It is therefore no wonder that He cried out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”
This is what gave comfort to David as he declared that there was no earthly escape from his predicament and no mere human who could, as George Fox would later put it, “speak to my condition.” There is One who can! He understands completely. He really does feel your pain. And He is not helpless but mighty to save and deliver. The truth is, we are in a good place when we have no one to look to, not even our closest friends and companions on earth, for help in our trials and difficulties. Thank God when we do have good friends and family who dearly love us but even they can never know our feelings and perceptions as God does. Nor can they ever love us more than Him. Nor can they help us apart from Him. So go to Him, dear suffering one, and cast all your care upon Him. Take these words of David and make them your own. Receive the comfort and help that only God can give.