Read the Passage: Psalm 141
Prayer for Haste (141:1–2)
Psalm 141 is one of the 75 psalms (out of 150 in the Book of Psalms) that David wrote. While the exact context and background details of Psalm 141 can’t be determined with full certainty, it was surely written by David during one of his many times of life distress—perhaps, as some suggest, when David was in the wilderness being pursued by King Saul, or maybe while David was fleeing from his son Absalom. Note David’s reference to “the words of men” at 1 Sam. 24:9, while he was fleeing from Saul, is nearly parallel to his claim at Ps. 141:6 “[men] hear my words,” which may be a clue as to the context of this Psalm. In any event, in Ps. 141:1 David pleads with God that his prayers might be heard. David’s passion is on clear display in this psalm as twice in the first verse he laments, “I cry out” (Ps. 141:1). In asking that his prayers might be heard in Ps. 141:1 David is, in a sense, praying about prayer—that is, he is praying that God would hear his cry and answer his prayers.
In Ps. 141:2 David describes prayer as being analogous to “incense . . . [at] the evening sacrifice.” David surely had in mind the incense that was offered every evening and morning under the Old Testament sacrificial system. Exod. 30:7–8 reads, “Aaron shall burn on [the altar] sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations” (cf. Exod. 29:13; Mal. 1:11). The picture here in Ps. 141:2 is that of prayers continually arising before an ever-attentive God. Note that in the New Testament, in the book of Revelation, John writes of celestial beings, who are forever in God’s presence, who offer “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints . . . before the throne” (Rev. 5:8; 8:3).
Prayer for Justice (141:3–7)
The overarching theme of David’s prayer in Psalm 141 is for deliverance and safekeeping from wicked men. Even so, David was acutely aware of his own deceitful and wicked heart while he prayed. As we can see in Ps. 141:3–5a, David was concerned to pray that his own words and actions would be pleasing to God. Clearly, David wanted to be sure that his petitions were centered upon God’s righteousness, and not upon a misperceived self-righteousness. Incredibly, at Ps. 141:5a David even asks God to use righteous men to rebuke him. David knew that rebukes from the righteous, offered in love, are one of the keys to personal purity and that such admonitions would aid in his prayer life. Prov. 27:5–6 says, “Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (cf. Prov. 6:23; Eccl. 7:5).
At Ps. 141:5b, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, David declared, “My prayer is against the deeds of the wicked.” Then, in Ps. 141:6–7 David used an illustration of dying in warfare. In biblical times, victorious armies sometimes killed their enemies by throwing them off of a large rock or a cliff (cf. Judg. 12:6; 2 Kings 9:33; 2 Chron. 25:12; Luke 4:29). In Ps. 141:7 David wrote that he felt as though this is how he and the righteous had been treated by their enemies—that is, “Our bones are scattered at the mouth of the grave.” Therefore, in Ps. 141:6, David looked forward to the time “when their judges [i.e., his enemies’ leaders] are thrown over the cliff, then they [i.e., the people] shall hear my words, for they are pleasant.” Note that David was not cold-heartedly rejoicing over the death of his enemies; rather, he was looking forward to deliverance from them.
Prayer for Deliverance (141:8–10)
The final three verses of this psalm speak of David’s confidence in eventual deliverance. In Ps. 141:8 David boldly declared his confidence in God. Such declarations of trust in God are very common in the psalms. David knew that the secret to persevering in trials is to fix one’s eyes upon the Lord—not upon oneself, one’s circumstances, or other men. In Ps. 141:9–10 David made two complementary requests. First, he asked that he not fall into his enemies’ traps (cf. 1 Sam. 18:21). Second, and conversely, David prayed that his enemies might fall into their own traps. Observe David’s methodology in this psalm. While external trials were surely the pressing need that sparked David to write this psalm, he did not actually ask for victory over his enemies until the final verse (Ps. 141:9–10). Indeed, David’s focus in this psalm is to rightly order his own relationship with God.
- As you read Psalm 141, and note the raw emotion and passion with which David writes, can you say that you are as vulnerable in your prayers as David was in his prayers?
- What parallels are there between David’s example in Psalm 141 and Jesus’ teaching about persevering in prayer at Luke 11:5–13; 18:1–8?
- Have you ever found yourself praying selfish prayers? How can we make sure our prayers are in accord with God’s will and not a manifestation of our own will?
- Like David, can we pray against our enemies? Are there any parallels between David’s prayer in Ps. 141 and James’ teaching on prayer at Jas. 4:1–6?
- What types of things are you tempted to trust in, other than God, when trials come your way? Like David, when you pray, are you confident of deliverance?