An Abysmal Cave

Who hasn't struggled with those demoralizing seasons of dark sadness? Everyone suffers from grief and sorrow from time to time. But depression is a different matter. Like a disease, it's very common, but it's not "normal." Depression is an extended state of mind characterized by acute sadness that most likely will not go away by itself. It needs attention.

Depression affects individuals differently. Some get so low and stay there so long they decide that taking their lives is better than enduring it any longer. Others seem to go in and out, down, then back up again. Depression has been described as a black hole, an abysmal cave. It certainly includes discouraging feelings that refuse to go away. I know some who have fought the battle of depression for years! Compared to the grind of despondency (see Psalm 13), depression is much deeper, more complicated, and usually lasts longer. Despondency leaves us feeling listless, blue, and discouraged, but depression is a feeling of severe oppressiveness that is far more serious. If it doesn't lift, professional help is often necessary.

While I hope this study will help your situation, I don't pretend that what I have to share in this short space will solve your problem. If your depression has continued for an extended period of time, be smart. Contact a qualified Christian counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist and do the spiritual and emotional work necessary to combat this serious difficulty. In the meantime, my hope is that this song from David's pen will help bring some long-awaited light into your cave of depression.

Before we begin to dig into the first verse of his great hymn, we come across some helpful information in the superscription: "Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer."

There are four important parts to this opening statement:

1. "Maskil." Thirteen of the songs in the Hebrews' hymnal are so designated. This is from the Hebrew root verb sakal, meaning "to be prudent, wise, to give insight and instruction." It is an instructive psalm designed to give us help and insight in a certain area of life. It will assist us so that we may know how to handle a particular situation wisely.

Since Psalm 142 deals with a time of depression in the writer's life, it is a maskil designed to give us insight into handling times of great, overwhelming distress.

2. "of David." David composed the hymn. Although David did not write all the psalms, he wrote more in Israel's ancient hymnal than any other person.

3. "when he was in the cave." The phrase regarding "the cave" appears in only one other superscription: Psalm 57. Unfortunately, David does not designate which cave. Two possibilities come to mind. David spent a lot of time in the cave of Engedi (1 Samuel 24) and the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22). Most likely, the psalm has the latter in view.

4. "A Prayer." Charles Spurgeon wrote, "Caves make good closets for prayer; their gloom and solitude are helpful to the exercise of devotion." 1 This psalm is actually a prayer, so we should handle it with respect. Prayers were not recorded in Scripture for the purpose of analysis, but to bring insight and encouragement. This psalm is a good one to consider when you find yourself in the same state of mind as David. To put it bluntly, he was back in the pits.

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  1. C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Volume 6: Psalms 120-150 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 323.

Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind (Brentwood, Tenn.: Worthy Publishing, a division of Worthy Media, Inc., 2012). Copyright © 2012 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights are reserved. Used by permission.

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