Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
no one cares for my life.
I cry to you, LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
Listen to my cry,
for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
for they are too strong for me.
Set me free from my prison,
that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
because of your goodness to me.
Most of us are familiar with David singing about the Lord as his Shepherd, following after Him in green pastures beside still waters, and needing nothing. So we might be caught short in today’s psalm as David writes about “desperate need”, having “no refuge”, and being alone. David tells us in the psalm’s superscript that he writes the psalm “When he was in the cave”. David spent much time in the caves of Judah hiding out from the relentless pursuit of King Saul and his troops. This cave could be the cave of Adullam (I Samuel 22) or the cave of Engedi (I Samuel 24). David has no place left to run, having already fled the towns of Nob and Gath (I Samuel 21). While Bible historians label this as David’s “pre-king days”, David might have doubted that he would ever be king. Having been anointed to become king years earlier (I Samuel 16), he must wonder why he is in a cave rather than in a palace. The great English preacher Charles Spurgeon lets us in on God’s secret:
Is it not a curious thing that whenever God means to make a man great, He always first breaks him in pieces?…He strips you before He robes you! He makes nothing of you before He makes something of you! This was the way with David. He is to be king in Jerusalem, but he must go to the throne by the way of the cave. (Metropolitan Tabernacle Sermons)
Everyone of us who has anything to do with God spends some time in a ‘cave’ of sorts where we learn to rely on God alone. David has no choice as God has taken away every human prop. God is schooling David in the lesson that the apostle Paul will later learn: “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:10).
Today we see David pouring out his woes to God, not to provide God information, but to provide David relief. As David talks with God about his heartache he begins focusing on the promise rather than the problem, on who God is rather than who David is. He does an attitude check looking at life from God’s vantage point and speaking God-affirmations: “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”
As David prays he comes to believe that God will be his “portion”. Just as God had once promised every Hebrew family a “portion” in the Promised Land (Numbers 18:20; 34:1-29), so David claims God as his own. God will be his security and support, his “portion in the land of the living”, right now, right here.
David is coming to understand that it is first the pain and then the gain, first the cave and then the throne, so that he can contemplate the day when “the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.”
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