A maskil of David. When he was in the cave. A prayer.
I cry aloud to the LORD;
I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. — Psalm 142:1
Psalm 142 is one of the few psalms that gives us some background information regarding its composition. The psalm begins “A maskil of David. When he was in a cave. A prayer.” This psalm was composed by King David as a prayer while he was in a cave. However, we are left wondering which cave and under what circumstances?
The Jewish sages point us toward 1 Samuel 24. King Saul had been informed that David was hiding in Ein Gedi, and Saul went on a manhunt with 3,000 men by his side. As David was hiding in a cave, he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. He knew that the men around him were intent on killing him. Then Saul himself entered the cave.
Can you imagine David’s feelings in those moments? The person who wants him dead more than anyone has found his hiding place. Checkmate.
We don’t have to imagine David’s feelings; they were poured into this psalm: “ . . . my spirit grows faint within me . . . ” (v. 3) “ . . . I am in desperate need . . .” (v. 6). David was so frightened that his spirit was weak. He was desperate for God’s help.
I am reminded about those times during the Holocaust when families would hide from the Nazis as they came into their towns to round up the Jews and send them off to the camps. The Jews had heard the rumors about the gas chambers and crematoriums. Discovery meant almost certain death. They hid for their lives. Everyone would hold their breath, even the children, and the only sound that could be heard would be the sound of the Nazis’ boots.
That is fear. That’s the kind of fear that David felt, and the kind that some people will encounter in their own lives. It could be waiting for medical test results or for a loved one to come out of surgery. It could be waiting to hear if you got a job which will mean food for your family, or God forbid, experiencing a natural disaster. There are times when we feel wild fear. Psalm 142 shows us how to tame those fears.
See what David did? “I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy.” Turning to God is key. When all seems lost, find hope in God. When fear has a hold on us, find peace in God. When danger seems imminent, find refuge in God, “You are my refuge” (v. 5).
King David was able to control his fear by praying to God. The Lord protected him and his life was spared – Saul never discovered him in that cave. May we merit the same salvation in our moments of distress as we turn toward our savior, our God.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President