"In this psalm we see a servant of God, long and sorely tried by the persecutions of unrelenting enemies, and, as it seems to himself, forgotten and forsaken of God, pouring out the agony of his soul in prayer. It is a long and weary struggle, it is a daily and hourly martyrdom; and wrestling with his despair, he can but cry (like the souls under the altar, Rev ), ‘How long!' And then calmer words of prayer rise to his lips (Psa 13:3-4); and at last Faith asserts her perfect victory (Psa 13:5). The rapid transition of feeling, from a depth of misery bordering on despair, to hope, and even joy, is very remarkable."—Perowne.
I. The nature of such eclipses.
Psa . Rylands, commenting on this psalm, regards it as exclusively applicable to the Redeemer. "In addition to the sufferings which human nature is exposed to, Messiah, during His sojourn on earth, experienced a peculiar calamity in the hiding of God's face from Him." Then he goes on to say, "God never hides His face from the redeemed;" and speaks of "The ill effect of the doctrine that God hides His face from His people." Now, it is quite true that God never ceases to love His children, but still the people of God are sensible of eclipses of the soul, such as the Psalmist describes in this psalm. God has not really deserted His children, but it often seems as if He had. "It is true that God does not forget any one, yet it may be that, to the human spirit, it appears as if he were forgotten by God, and that the Holy One had veiled His countenance from him. Then he feels at once that he is forsaken by God, and that he is weak with reference to his enemies."—Moll. And whilst the Psalmist deplores the withdrawal of the Divine face, he yet recognises, in the same moment, that it is only a seeming withdrawal. Phillips renders the passage, "How long wilt thou be apparently forgetful of my troubles, and withhold from me Thy assistance?" And Delitzsch explains: "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? 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." Thus, although God never really forsakes or neglects His people, it often seems as if He had done so. In providential matters, they fail to recognise His hand; His consolations cease in their spirit; and they are full of darkness and bitterness. And yet, as at midnight we know that the sun still lives, and will soon again shine on the earth; so in the saint's deepest darkness, his faith penetrates through the gloom, and awaits the shining of God's face.
II. The cause of these eclipses.
1. Why does God thus appear to desert His people at all? Why does He veil His hand and His face? The end of God's discipline with all His people is to make them feel their absolute dependence upon Himself. The aim of an earthly parent is to render the child independent, to teach it to live upon its own resources, to go by itself, to be sufficient in itself. God's aim is the opposite of this, to teach us that we are nothing, and can do nothing in ourselves, and that our sufficiency is of Himself. These eclipses teach us:
(1.) That God is the source of happiness (Psa ). How deep the sorrow of the Psalmist's soul! When God hides His face, we feel that the fountain of life is stopped. No matter what may be left, "sorrow is in our heart daily." There is a flower which fades immediately a screen is interposed between it and the sun; and let God's face be hidden from us, and the soul sickens as a drooping flower.
(2.) That God is the source of wisdom. "How long shall I take counsel in my soul?" "David represents himself as meditating plan after plan."—Speaker's Com. "He appears to be devising many plans in vain, like an unsuccessful general in an army."—Wordsworth. "This strikingly describes the helpless embarrassment of the sufferer."—Perowne. When God hides His face, we know not what to do, how to act. We soon feel that He is the great Counsellor, and that we are painfully perplexed without His light.
(3.) That God is the source of strength. "How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?" (Psa ). David felt weak, and altogether at the mercy of his enemies. When the Spaniards had beaten the Mexicans in a great battle, the latter called in the assistance of their priests. The priests, after some consultation, said that the Spaniards were children of the sun; that they derived their strength from that luminary, and when his beams were withdrawn, their powers would also fail. They recommended a night attack, therefore, as one which afforded the best chance of success. As these Spaniards were supposed to draw their strength from the orb of day, so really does the saint draw his conquering strength from God; and when he is deprived of the light of God's face his "enemies prevail against him."
(4.) God is the source of life (Psa ). "Sleep an eternal sleep."—Speaker's Com. Without God we feel that we perish. "In Him we live, and move, and have our being." Great lessons are taught us in life's dark hours. During eclipses, astronomers learn secrets of the heavens which they cannot penetrate in days of sunshine; and it is necessary sometimes that God should hide His face, so that we may see more clearly, and feel more deeply, these great truths and principles. "I know that, as night and shadows are good for flowers, and moonlight and dews are better than a continual sun, so is Christ's absence of special use, and that it hath some nourishing virtue in it, and giveth sap to humility, and putteth an edge on hunger, and furnisheth a fair field to faith to put forth itself, and to exercise its fingers in gripping it seeth not what."—Rutherford, quoted by Spurgeon.
2. Why does God hide His face so long? "How long," four times repeated. Is not the true answer, because we are so slow to learn the great truths which He designs to teach? We think that we have learned truths when they are not half-learned, and so God has to protract the eclipse. Tholuck well says: "That the length of trouble is harder to bear than the strength of it;" but it is only when long protracted that it leaves behind it the greater treasures.
III. The duty of the saints in these hours of darkness. Not discontent; not despair.
1. Wait in faith. "O Lord my God" (Psa ). And there is faith throughout. He is in perplexity and trouble, but not in despair. In the dark he holds to God.
2. Wait in prayer. Mark how the Psalmist pleads (Psa ). "It is well for those who, although in the greatest anxiety, are driven by the feeling that they are abandoned by God to seek the grace of God."—Moll. "Resolve never to be dumb while God is deaf."
3. Wait in hope (Psa ). Coleridge said of himself, that he was an inveterate hoper. So should it be with all the people of God. Hope in God's mercy, and tune your harp for a song.
Believer, despair not; for if God seems to have forsaken you, He is still strengthening you. "As when the sun is eclipsed, though the earth wants the light thereof, yet not the influence thereof; so God's supporting grace is ever with His deserted."—Trapp. And when the trial is over, your soul shall be deeper, brighter, more fruitful.
"You have been wretched; yet
The silver shower, whose reckless burden weighs
Too heavily upon the lily's head,
oft leaves a saving moisture at its root."
THE CHEQUERED LIFE
What changes we witness in the Psalmist's life and experience! This psalm reflects as a mirror the changing conditions of his soul and history. In this little psalm David is seen as a fugitive and a conqueror, as despairing and triumphing, as weeping and singing. And it is largely thus with all the people of God.
I. The vicissitudes of the outer life.
What contrasts of fortune you have in the life of David! A shepherd, a king; a king, a fugitive; and strange alternations of fortune throughout. Few lives present such marked contrasts as that of the Hebrew king, yet most lives know analogous variations. Our lives play up and down the scale between health and sickness, plenty and poverty, popularity and neglect, activity and solitude, fortune and disappointment.
II. The vicissitudes of the inner life.
In this psalm the writer passes from despair to exultation, from doubt to assurance, from lamentation to praise; and so might as easily pass back again, as indeed we see him do in other psalms. How constant the changes of the mood of the soul! We are ever changing from bright to dark, from low to high, from sweet to bitter, or the reverse. How extreme these changes of thought and feeling! We are conquerors, captives; kings, worms; strong as Samson, reeds shaken with the wind; singing at heaven's gate, weeping on ruin's brink. How rapid these changes! The Christian soul is a microcosm, in which you may see in an hour hope, fear, joy, sorrow. In Iceland, we are told, contradictory elements and phenomena are strangely blended. Snow is often blackened with ashes, ashes are white washed with snow; water flows under the lava, and there freezes and forms subterraneous glaciers. As in this strange land fire and frost are thus fantastically mingled, so in the Christian soul do day and night, summer and winter, snow and harvest, strangely mix in perpetual flux.
III. The aim of this discipline.
To purify and perfect us. "Emptied from vessel to vessel," with each transition some of the dregs are to be removed, so that at length the wine of our life may run clear. The sharp and sudden contrasts are necessary to perfect us in the deep places of our nature. The Arabs say of the palm-tree that it must have "its feet in the water and its head in the fire." And so the soul needs strong contrasts of experience to ripen it in the things of God. The continual variation of experience is necessary to touch and perfect us on every side of our manifold nature. As with a thousand changes of sky, and wind, and atmosphere God ripens the fruit of the orchard, so with countless variations of thought and emotion does God ripen the Christian heart in His love and likeness.
JEALOUS FOR GOD
The doctrine is taught here that God's honour is bound up with the deliverance of His people. David deprecated failure in himself because God's honour and cause would suffer through it (Psa ). "Moved from my steadfastness or firmness, when I am overcome. Hitherto he had been able to hold out against them, now be began to despair, and to fear that they would accomplish their object by overcoming and subduing him. His ground of apprehension and of appeal was, that by his being vanquished the cause in which he was engaged would suffer, and that the enemies of religion would triumph."—Barnes.
We learn here, then:
That God's honour is bound up with the conduct of His people.
This should teach:
1. The necessity of circumspection in the saints. If we are moved, God's cause is injured and His name profaned. "And certainly it should be a powerful motive to restrain us from transgression, when we consider that as the conversion of a sinner brings glory to God, and causes joy among the angels of heaven, so the fall of a believer disgraces the Gospel of Jesus, opens the mouths of the adversaries, and would produce joy, if such a thing could be, in hell itself."—Horne. "Oh, what desolation is made by the fall of a righteous soul! Itself covered with darkness and desolation, infidels filled with scoffing, the Church clad in mourning, the Spirit of God grieved, and Jesus crucified afresh, and put to an open shame! O God! save the pious reader from such wreck and ruin!"—Clarke.
2. The strong ground of a believer's confidence. God will not permit us to be moved if we are faithful, for this would dishonour Himself and His kingdom. What a plea in prayer!
"Ah! suffer not my foe to boast
His victory o'er a child of Thine,
Nor let the proud Philistines' host
In Satan's hellish triumph join.
"Will they not charge my fall on Thee!
Will they not dare my God to blame?
My God, forbid the blasphemy!
Be jealous for Thy glorious name!"
3. A warning to persecutors. Persecuting saints, they aim a blow at God. "As unskilful hunters shooting at wild beasts do sometimes kill a man, so persecutors, shooting at saints, his Christ, reproach Him."—Trapp.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany