Psalm 142 is a prayer in which the suppliant tells God about his lonely state, puts his trust in Him, and asks to be saved from his distressful state.
The psalmist laments his lonely state, “Look at my right and see — I have no friend; there is nowhere I can flee, no one cares about me… Free me from prison!” (vv. 5, 8a)
2-3. Initial plea (descriptive)
4ab. Affirmation of confidence
6. Invocation, affirmation of confidence
7-8a. Petition and complaint
8cd. Anticipated praise
Psalm 142 is a standard Complaint/Petition Psalm (a.k.a. as an “Individual Lament”): it contains (a) an invocation and initial plea (vv. 2-3), (b) a complaint (vv. 4-5), (c) an affirmation of confidence (v. 6), (d) a petition (vv. 7-8a), and anticipated praise (v. 8cd) (See Gerstenberger’s Psalms Part 1, p. 12). The enemy is not described in detail, but it is clear that the speaker is an outcast: “Look at my right and see — I have no friend; there is nowhere I can flee, no one cares about me.” (v. 5) He goes so far to say “Free me from prison!” in v. 8, and while some take this literally, the prison is probably a metaphor for his distressful state.
The speaker’s description of his alienation is a popular theme in the complaint/petition genre. See, for instance, Ps. 41:10 “My ally in whom I trusted, even he who shares my bread, has been utterly false to me,” and Ps. 88:19 “You have put friend and neighbor far from me and my companions out of my sight.” Similar messages appear in the book of Job (cf. 19:13-22), and Lev. 13:45-46 exhorts the community to exile those struck by God: “As for the person with a leprous affection, his clothes shall be rent, his head shall be left bare, and he shall cover over his upper lip; and he shall call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall be unclean as long as the disease is on him. Being unclean, he shall dwell apart; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.”
In terms of literary structure, the psalm repeats many words, first in vv. 2-5 and then again in vv. 6-8. The repeated words are za’aq, ‘alay, ‘attah, mimmenni, and nefesh. Its initial plea (vv. 2-3) is unique in that it is descriptive instead of a direct address: “I pour out my complaint before Him; I lay my trouble before Him.” The psalm, which is similar in message and style to the previous two, is the third in a row to describe the enemy with a hunting metaphor (cf. 140:6, 141:9-10, 142:6).
V. Important Verses
v. 5: Look at my right and see — I have no friend; there is nowhere I can flee, no one cares about me.
v. 8: Free me from prison, that I may praise Your name. The righteous shall glory in me for Your gracious dealings with me.