A prayer for deliverance from enemies by one who knows his own moral frailty.
st. 1 = vv. 1-2
st. 2 = vv. 3-4
st. 3 = vv. 5-6
st. 4 = vv. 7-8a
st. 5 = vv. 8a-l0a
st. 6 = vv. 10b-12
The psalmist prays for rescue from enemies whose fierce hostility has crushed him to the ground and turned his life into a living death (st. 2). But he is honest with himself and with God; he knows he cannot ground his appeal on his own moral perfection. "Do not bring your servant into judgment," the psalmist pleads, "for no one living is righteous before you" (v. 2; st. 1); "teach me to do your will . . . may your good Spirit lead me on level ground" (v. 10; st. 5). Remembering all the LORD has done for Israel, the psalmist pleads for God's help (st. 3) and adds, Help me soon, or I will perish (st. 4); deliver me from my enemies, O LORD (st. 5). "For your name's sake" (v. 11), show me your covenant grace (st. 6). The psalmist can appeal only to his firm confidence in God's covenant faithfulness, righteousness, and love, anticipating Paul's teaching of justification by faith (Rom. 3-5).
In early Christian liturgy Psalm 143 was grouped with the penitential psalms (the others are 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 130); it functioned as a prayer anticipating the last judgment. James Vanden Bosch (b. Zeeland, MI, 1948) prepared the unrhymed versification for this psalm in 1981 for the Psalter Hymnal.
Educated at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan; Ohio State University in Columbus; and the University of Chicago Divinity School, Illinois, Vanden Bosch taught English at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is now professor of English at his alma mater, Calvin College. He has a special interest in the teaching of rhetoric. Vanden Bosch is a member of Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.
As a penitential psalm, 143 may be used in the service of confession of sin and forgiveness; stanzas 4 through 6 make a fine prayer asking God to lead and guide in the Christian life. Traditionally sung at the Easter Vigil.
GENEVAN 143 was a setting for Psalm 143 in the first partial edition of the Genevan Psalter (1539) and was altered in subsequent editions to its present form. Howard Slenk (PHH 3) harmonized the tune in 1985. In the Dorian mode, GENEVAN 143 consists of five lines in which lines 1 and 3 are similar a…