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In Psalm 11 and Psalm 12, the psalmist has put his trust in God and His words in the midst of severe tribulation. Yet, as the tribulation begins to grow long, doubt begins to gnaw at his heart. Psalm 13 shows us the inner struggle of the believing remnant when the tribulation lasts (too) long in their experience. Four times we hear the desperate cry: How long? It is comparable to the doubt of John the baptist in prison (Matthew 11:2-Leviticus :), and the doubt of Elijah when Jezebel threatens to kill him (1 Kings 19:1-Numbers :). Thus, in the great tribulation, the believing remnant will struggle with the failure of God’s intervention.
Yet the result of this struggle is not despair, but renewed trust in God on the basis of His covenant faithfulness (Psalms 13:6). The word “lovingkindness” – Hebrew chesed – means the covenant faithfulness of the LORD. We see in the letter to the Hebrews that His covenantal faithfulness is based on the accomplished work of the Mediator of the new covenant on the cross of Calvary. The Mediator brought the blood of the new covenant into the inner sanctuary.
Psalm 13 can be divided into three sections:
1. A desperate cry for help: four times “how long? (Psalms 13:1-Exodus :).
2. A threefold prayer: consider, answer, enlighten my eyes! (Psalms 13:3-Deuteronomy :).
3. Finally, a song of confidence (Psalms 13:6), similar to the singing of Jehoshaphat and the people while facing a multitude of enemies (2 Chronicles 20:22), and of Paul and Silas while thrown into prison (Acts 16:25).
Complaint: How long?
For “for the choir director” (Psalms 13:1) see at Psalm 4:1.
For “a Psalm of David” see at Psalm 3:1.
Four times in these two verses, David asks the question, “how long?” (Psalms 13:1). The questions come from a soul that is in great distress and has been in it for quite some time, when there seems to be no end. He yearns for salvation, for the end of his misery. It is therefore not just asking a question, but wrestling in doubt, almost despair, with a question (cf. Matthew 11:2-Leviticus :).
The depth of the distress is expressed in the four repetitions of the word ‘how long’. His question is not “why”, but “how long. He holds that another age will come. But how long will this era be delayed? Can he hold on for so long?
The first “how long” question (Psalms 13:1) is not about his enemies. Those he mentions last. He begins with God as the cause of the distress in which he finds himself. It is with him as with Job, who also does not say that Satan has taken, but “the LORD has given and the LORD has taken” (Job 1:21). His worst struggle is that God has forgotten him, or at least that is the way he experiences it. How long will He do that? And, he exclaims, will God do that “forever”, constantly, will He never think of him again?
God does not seem to think of him anymore (cf. Isaiah 49:14). This is the greatest distress that can torment a believer. When you are forgotten, when no one asks about you, the thought occurs to you that you are not of interest, that you do not count. This is already true when people don’t notice you. It’s completely the case when you have the feeling that God doesn’t care about you anymore.
The second “how long” question David asks because God has disappeared from his field of vision. He knows God exists, but God does not show Himself. God may have forgotten him, but he has not forgotten God. Then he discovers to his dismay that God is untraceable. David is desperately searching for Him, but He has hidden Himself. This increases his loneliness and despair.
That God hides His face, that is, Himself, in a time of need, is the curse of the covenant (cf. Psalms 10:1; Psalms 22:1). It is the reverse of the priestly blessing in Numbers 6 (Numbers 6:24-Ezekiel :). It is a question of how God can withhold His covenant faithfulness, His lovingkindness, from him. David speaks here as the voice of the remnant.
He makes all kinds of plans in his soul, he deliberates how to get through his misery now that he apparently cannot appeal to God (Psalms 13:3). He pains his thoughts about it how long he will endure, when God is the great Absent One and he can discover nothing of Him. It causes an incessant sorrow in his heart, deep inside, that he feels “all the day”, or day in and day out.
And then there are his enemies who lift themselves up and exalt themselves above him. They are at the edge of his existence, constantly surrounding him. Now that God, Who is in the center of his existence, has withdrawn from him, the enemies press on him all the more strongly. As already noted, it is only now that he speaks of his enemies, after first expressing his greatest concern that God does not show Himself.
David has presented his “how long” questions to God in the previous verses. Now he addresses God with three short words, “consider … answer … enlighten”. They are in the imperative, but are uttered as supplications (Psalms 13:3).
The question “consider” connects to his question “how long” God will forget him (Psalms 13:1). The question means: “Be merciful to me, have mercy on me” (cf. Isaiah 63:15). He asks God to notice him, the supplicant, and not to pass him by as if he did not exist.
The question “consider” is connected to the question “how long” God will still hide Himself (Psalms 13:1). With this he asks God to please respond to his cry for help and to take away the distress of his soul.
Finally, David asks the LORD to enlighten his eyes. To enlighten the eyes means to receive God’s blessings through which he will again receive strength to go forward (cf. 1 Samuel 14:27). His eyes are now dull with sorrow and hopelessness. He longs for light in his darkness, for a ray of hope.
The darkness does not even have to disappear, if only he has light to find his way that is now so hidden from him because God hides Himself. If his eyes are not enlightened by giving him some hope of salvation, he will die. What David says in his prayer indicates how serious the situation is, how desperate he feels.
“Sleep the [sleep of] death” means that he loses his trust in God, whereby the enemy will then gain complete victory. In Psalms 13:4, David makes this argument. Surely God must be sensitive to this. It connects to what he said about his enemies in Psalms 13:2. The argument is that surely God will not allow the enemies to boast of a victory over him. Surely he will not give his enemies a reason to rejoice over the abandonment of his trust in God. David here ties his fate to the honor of God (cf. Numbers 14:15-Nehemiah :).
He appeals to God’s intervention in view of the reaction of his enemy and adversaries. If God does not intervene in his favor, the enemies will boast that they have conquered him. They will express their joy over it when he staggers. Surely God cannot allow this to happen. After all, His honor is at stake here?
Confidence and Joy
After making his distress known to the LORD (Psalms 13:1-Exodus :) and pleading with the LORD to come to his aid (Psalms 13:3-Deuteronomy :), David comes to rest. “I” has emphasis in Hebrew. After struggling with his doubt in his life of prayer, David achieves victory by trusting and looking to God’s lovingkindness. His confidence in God’s lovingkindness, that is, his trust that God remains faithful to His covenant, is back. He knows that God will show him His lovingkindness and help him. That awareness causes joy in his heart. He expresses his joy by singing to the LORD.
The occasion is that “He has dealt bountifully with me” and has turned everything around for the better. The phrase “has dealt bountifully” has the meaning of ‘treated with abundant blessing and goodness’. God is not good just a little bit, but full of goodness to His own. The enemies rejoice at God’s apparent absence and lack of care for His own, but the psalmist is certain that the God-fearing will ultimately rejoice in God’s salvation. The word “salvation” has the meaning of ample redemption. It is not just that the enemy has been vanquished, but he has been totally eliminated.
We see here what we find in many psalms, that they begin with a lament and end with a praise. We see the order: complaint (Psalms 13:1-Exodus :), prayer (Psalms 13:3-Numbers :) and expression of confidence in a song of praise (Psalms 13:5-Joshua :). The complaint about being forgotten by God thus turns into a song of thanksgiving for God’s experienced goodness.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 13". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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