I hate to explain a pun, but the title should be read /jəst de-zərts/, not /just di-zərts/. Though the second could be appropriate as well.
It’s striking that David is not part of כל ישראל; he takes no part in the mourning for Samuel. In fact, he runs even further away:
פארן is outside the historical boundaries of ארץ ישראל, south of מדבר יהודה. Why would he run away, especially after Saul has just acknowledged him in the previous perek as בני…עתה הנה ידעתי כי מלך תמלוך? Malbim suggests that it was only now that the fact of David’s anointing became known:
But Saul himself clearly knew that David would reign, and even the Philistines called him (שמואל א כא:יב) דוד מלך הארץ. So the anointing was clearly a very open secret, if a secret at all. And why would the secret get out only after Samuel had died? I think that it was Samuel’s death that made David run. Samuel was Saul’s last connection to his own kingship, and to the רוח נבואה that he had achieved. With Samuel’s death, there was not going back to “the good old days”. Saul himself, in a few more chapters, will actually seek out a medium to contact Samuel’s spirit. I think David sensed that Saul was now lost in despair, and whatevery peace he had felt in the last chapter was now gone. In clinical terms, his paranoia had relapsed, and there would be no further remission.
And David was right. We will see that Saul cuts off the family connection by taking Michal away from David, then going off to try to kill him yet again.
There are three chapters of תהילים relevant to this period of David’s life. The first is a reflection on his priorities in his internal exile in the deserts of יהודה:
טוב חסדך מחיים
The Artscroll Tehillim cites the Darash Moshe that David celebrates the fact that, even as an outcast, he can remain in מדבר יהודה, and therefore אלקים א־לי אתה, ה׳ is still my G-d, since (כתובות קי,ב) כל הדר בחוצה לארץ דומה כמי שאין לו א־לוה. This makes David’s later move to מדבר פארן even more dramatic.
David’s thirst is for ה׳, not for water, even in the midst of the desert. כמה is a hapax legomenon that Rashi translates as תאוה. The Midrash (בראשית רבה סט:א) connects it to the Aramaic word for mushroom, איבו ככמהות הללו שהן מצפין למים, that suck the moisture out of the very air. The metaphor of the thirst for Torah and word of ה׳ as water helps explain an odd vignette later in שמואל:
The next few psukim compare David’s past situation with his miserable present, but still his goal remains the same. Once he could sat בקדש חזיתך, I saw the משכן but now אברכך בחיי, I can’t offer sacrifices but I can praise you with my very life.
“Once I rested on יצועי, a cushioned bed and thought of You; now I don’t sleep but have to keep watch but still באשמרות אהגה בך”. We have seen the image of יצועי before:
The next psukim (ח-יא) are the essence of his prayer, that I rely on ה׳ and He will destroy my enemies.
I would explain the last pasuk with Sforno, that David is praying for Saul (the מלך of the pasuk), that he will שמח באלקים and those who slander David will be silenced (from סֶכֶר, a dam).
We have explained משכיל as “practical intelligence”, “common sense”. The Midrash sees this perek as David’s advice for what to do in emergencies:
The Metzudot translates התעטף as “oppressed”, as though his spirit is folded in on itself from despair. I would translate בהתעטף עלי רוחי based on the Midrash, as “when I am wrapped up in myself”, occupied with my own thoughts, since no one else cares:
טמנו פח לי—”They laid a trap for me“—in this interpretation is talking about David’s friends; they may be trying to help but really it is a trap. I need to find my own way.
Rav Hirsch interprets ימין in הביט ימין וראה in the sense of the English “right-hand man”. David says look at my right hand, where my allies should be. אין לי מכיר: there’s no one there who understands me. David had allies: his 600 men. But they didn’t understand him. They were driven by violence and selfishness, as we see again and again. David’s real “right-hand man” was יואב, who never met a problem that couldn’t be solved with a well placed knife between the ribs. But that is not David’s way; אמרתי אתה מחסי.
הקשיבה אל רנתי
And the last pasuk is David’s request; ironically the Midrash would take it literally, to fit with the incident of the כותרת:
We previously dealt (in the context of David escaping from Michal’s bedroom) with מכתם as a bloodstain, and אל תשחת as a plea that David not be forced to kill. This perek is more explicitly about David’s dilemma in dealing with Saul and with his own allies. Rashi sees the double חנני as reflecting this dilemma:
This echoes an earlier dilemma in תנ״ך:
And it sets the standard of how we are supposed to approach war. To quote Golda Meir, “When peace comes, we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.”
In the next few pesukim, David echoes the older תהילים צא, attributed to Moshe, that ה׳ will protect His faithful. David does not need to be violent, since ה׳ will fight his battles:
נפשי בתוך לבאם
And I would interpret the בני אדם that David is בתוך not as his enemies chasing him, but his friends, the כל איש מר נפש who made up his gang. They represent a deeper danger; as Malbim says about the pasuk בך חסיה נפשי; ובצל כנפיך אחסה:
רומה על שמים
The second half of this perek is a more standard part of תהילים (note the inclusio of רומה על שמים), exalting ה׳ and asking that his enemies be caught in their own traps. It is repeated in תהילים קח, in the context of David’s later wars (that perek parallels תהילים ס, בהצותו את ארם נהרים).
The emphasis is on having faith that ה׳ is the source of victory (one interpretation of למנצח) and David’s role is to proclaim ה׳'s glory to the world.
Malbim interprets נכון לבי אלקים as a reference to David’s self control, his acknowledgment that revenge belongs to ה׳. It is unclear if it is a prayer (“O L-rd, set my heart”) or a declaration (“O L-rd, my heart is set”):
כבוד here is an interesting word, translated as “soul” and that is clearly how the word is used elsewhere in תנ״ך:
But it’s not part of the usual hierarchy of “soul”, נפש-רוח-נשמה-חיה-יחידה. Many reasons are given for associating the “soul” with כבוד, but I like the רבינו בחיי. When applied to ה׳, it means the physical manifestation of the divine (וירא כבוד ה׳; look at אנעים זמירות-שיר הכבוד), and our כבוד represents our link to the divine כבוד:
And I would try to avoid getting too kabbalistic but I would connect this to a comment in the Midrash Tanchuma:
I think that this is what is meant by כבוד. It is our צלם האלקים, something that the מלאכים do not have (the word צלם is never applied to them, only דמות; ואכמ״ל). And that something is that which makes us uniquely human, our free will:
And that is what David is calling on to awaken: Arise, O my humanity, my ability to choose right from wrong. It’s time to act, rather than be acted upon. And only then על כל הארץ כבודך.