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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Psalms 13


Suppliant Cry of One Who Is Utterly Undone

The ירוּם of the personal cry with which David opens Psalms 13:1-6 harmonizes with כּרם of the general lament which he introduces into Psalms 12:1-8; and for this reason the collector has coupled these two Psalms together. Hitzig assigns Psalms 13:1-6 to the time when Saul posted watchers to hunt David from place to place, and when, having been long and unceasingly persecuted, David dared to cherish a hope of escaping death only by indefatigable vigilance and endurance. Perhaps this view is correct. The Psalm consists of three strophes, or if it be preferred, three groups of decreasing magnitude. A long deep sigh is followed, as from a relieved breast, by an already much more gentle and half calm prayer; and this again by the believing joy which anticipates the certainty of being answered. This song as it were casts up constantly lessening waves, until it becomes still as the sea when smooth as a mirror, and the only motion discernible at last is that of the joyous ripple of calm repose.

Verses 1-2

(Heb.: 13:2-3) The complicated question: till when, how long...for ever (as in Psalms 74:10; Psalms 79:5; Psalms 89:47), is the expression of a complicated condition of soul, in which, as Luther briefly and forcibly describes it, amidst the feeling of anguish under divine wrath “hope itself despairs and despair nevertheless begins to hope.” The self-contradiction of the question is to be explained by the conflict which is going on within between the flesh and the spirit. The dejected heart thinks: God has forgotten me for ever. But the spirit, which thrusts away this thought, changes it into a question which sets upon it the mark of a mere appearance not a reality: how long shall it seem as though Thou forgettest me for ever? It is in the nature of the divine wrath, that the feeling of it is always accompanied by an impression that it will last for ever; and consequently it becomes a foretaste of hell itself. But faith holds fast the love that is behind the wrath; it sees in the display of anger only a self-masking of the loving countenance of the God of love, and longs for the time when this loving countenance shall be again unveiled to it. Thrice does David send forth this cry of faith out of the inmost depths of his spirit. To place or set up contrivances, plans, or proposals in his soul, viz., as to the means by which he may be able to escape from this painful condition, is equivalent to, to make the soul the place of such thoughts, or the place where such thoughts are fabricated (cf. Proverbs 26:24). One such עצה chases the other in his soul, because he recognises the vanity of one after another as soon as they spring up. With respect to the יומם which follows, we must think of these cares as taking possession of his soul in the night time; for the night leaves a man alone with his affliction and makes it doubly felt by him. It cannot be proved from Ezekiel 30:16 (cf. Zephaniah 2:4 בּצּהרים ), that יומם like יום (Jeremiah 7:25, short for יום יום ) may mean “daily” (Ew. §313, a). יומם does not mean this here, but is the antithesis to לילה which is to be supplied in thought in Psalms 13:3. By night he proposes plan after plan, each one as worthless as the other; and by day, or all the day through, when he sees his distress with open eyes, sorrow ( יגון ) is in his heart, as it were, as the feeling the night leaves behind it and as the direct reflex of his helpless and hopeless condition. He is persecuted, and his foe is in the ascendant. רוּם is both to be exalted and to rise, raise one's self, i.e., to rise to position and arrogantly to assume dignity to one's self ( sich brüsten ). The strophe closes with ‛ad - āna which is used for the fourth time.

Verses 3-4

(Heb.: 13:4-5) In contrast to God's seeming to have forgotten him and to wish neither to see nor know anything of his need, he prays: הבּיטה (cf. Isaiah 63:15). In contrast to his being in perplexity what course to take and unable to help himself, he prays: ענני , answer me, who cry for help, viz., by the fulfilment of my prayer as a real, actual answer. In contrast to the triumphing of his foe: האירה עיני , in order that the triumph of his enemy may not be made complete by his dying. To lighten the eyes that are dimmed with sorrow and ready to break, is equivalent to, to impart new life (Ezra 9:8), which is reflected in the fresh clear brightness of the eye (1 Samuel 14:27, 1 Samuel 14:29). The lightening light, to which האיר points, is the light of love beaming from the divine countenance, Psalms 31:17. Light, love, and life are closely allied notions in the Scriptures. He, upon whom God looks down in love, continues in life, new powers of life are imparted to him, it is not his lot to sleep the death, i.e., the sleep of death, Jeremiah 51:39, Jeremiah 51:57, cf. Psalms 76:6. המּות is the accusative of effect or sequence: to sleep so that the sleep becomes death (lxx εἰς θάνατον ), Ew. §281, e. Such is the light of life for which he prays, in order that his foe may not be able at last to say יכלתּיו (with accusative object, as in Jeremiah 38:5) = יכלתּי לו , Psalms 129:2, Genesis 32:26, I am able for him, a match for him, I am superior to him, have gained the mastery over him. כּי , on account of the future which follows, had better be taken as temporal ( quum) than as expressing the reason ( quod), cf. בּמוט רגלי , Psalms 38:17.

Verses 5-6

(Heb.: 13:6) Three lines of joyous anticipation now follow the five of lament and four of prayer. By יאני he sets himself in opposition to his foes. The latter desire his death, but he trusts in the mercy of God, who will turn and terminate his affliction. בּטח בּ denotes faith as clinging fast to God, just as חסה בּ denotes it as confidence which hides itself in Him. The voluntative יגל pre-supposes the sure realisation of the hope. The perfect in Psalms 13:6 is to be properly understood thus: the celebration follows the fact that inspires him to song. גּמל על to do good to any one, as in Psalms 116:7; Psalms 119:17, cf. the radically cognate ( &#על גּמר Psalms 57:3. With the two iambics gamal‛alaj the song sinks to rest. In the storm-tossed soul of the suppliant all has now become calm. Though it rage without as much now as ever - peace reigns in the depth of his heart.

Copyright Statement
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Psalms 13". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.