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THE writer—again, according to the title, David—is reduced almost to utter despair. He has undergone lengthened persecution—the Divine countenance has been turned away from him (Psalms 13:1); it seems to him that God has altogether forgotten him; he is in extreme perplexity and distress (Psalms 13:2), and raises the cry—so often raised by sufferers (Job 19:2; Psalms 6:3; Psalms 35:7; Psalms 79:5; Psalms 94:3, Psalms 94:4; Habakkuk 1:2; Revelation 6:10)—"How long?" This cry he repeats four times (Psalms 13:1, Psalms 13:2). He does not, however, quite despair. In Psalms 13:3 he passes from protest to prayer; and in Psalms 13:5, Psalms 13:6 he proceeds from prayer to praise, having (apparently) through his prayer received an internal assurance of God's help. The tone suits the time when he was "hunted in the mountains" by Saul (1 Samuel 26:20).
How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? God cannot forget, but man often feels as if he were forgotten of him (comp. Psalms 42:9; Psalms 44:24; Lamentations 5:20). David seems to have feared that God had forgotten him "for ever." How long wilt then hide thy face from me! (comp. Psalms 30:7; Isaiah 1:15; Ezekiel 39:29). The "light of God's countenance" shining on us is the greatest blessing that we know (see Psalms 4:6; Psalms 31:18; Psalms 44:4; Psalms 67:1; Psalms 80:3, Psalms 80:7. etc.). When it is withdrawn, and he "hides his face," we naturally sink into despair.
How long shall I take counsel in my soul? or, How long shall I arrange plans? (Kay). Tossing on a sea of doubt and perplexity, David forms plan after plan, but to no purpose. He seeks to find a way of escape from his difficulties, but cannot discover one. Having sorrow in my heart daily; or, all the day. It is, perhaps, implied that the plans are formed and thought over at night. How long shall mine enemy be exalted ever me? A special enemy is once more glanced at. The allusion seems to be to Saul (comp. Psalms 7:2, Psalms 7:5, Psalms 7:11-16; Psalms 8:2; Psalms 9:6, Psalms 9:16; Psalms 10:2-11, Psalms 10:15; Psalms 11:5).
Consider and hear me, O Lord my God (comp. Psalms 5:1; Psalms 9:13; Psalms 141:1, etc.). David will not allow himself to be "forgotten;" he will recall himself to God's remembrance. "Consider—hear me," he says, "O Lord my God;" still "my God," although thou hast forgotten me, and therefore bound to "hear me." Lighten mine eyes. Not so much "enlighten me spiritually,'' as "cheer me up; put brightness into my eyes; revive me". Lest I sleep the sleep of death; literally, lest I sleep death. Death is compared to a sleep by Job (Job 11:12), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 51:39, Jeremiah 51:57), Daniel (Daniel 12:2), and here by David, in the Old Testament; and by our Lord (John 11:11-13) and St. Paul in the New (1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:14, 1 Thessalonians 4:15). The external resemblance of a corpse to a sleeping person was the root of the metaphor, and we shall do wrong to conclude from its employment anything with respect to the psalmist's views concerning the real nature of death.
Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him. The triumph of David's enemy over him, whether he were Saul or any one else, even the ideal wicked man, would be the triumph of evil over good, of those who had cast God behind their back over those who faithfully served him, of irreligion over piety. He could therefore appeal to God—not in his own personal interest, but in the interest of truth and right, and the general good of mankind—to prevent his enemy's triumph. And those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved. There would be a general rejoicing on the part of all his foes, if his arch-enemy succeeded in seriously injuring him.
But I have trusted (or, I trust) in thy mercy. I know, i.e; that thou wilt not suffer me to be overcome by my enemy. Thou wilt save me; and therefore my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation, whereof I entertain no doubt.
I will sing unto the Lord. I will exchange my cry of despair, "How long?" (Psalms 13:1, Psalms 13:2), for a joyful song of thanksgiving; because already I am cheered, I am revived—he (i.e. the Lord) hath dealt bountifully with me. And this mental revival is an assurance of deliverance to come.
Psalms 13:1, Psalms 13:6
Despair turned to thankfulness.
"How long," etc.? "I will sing," etc. The last verse of this tender and beautiful little psalm contains the reply to the first. Despondency is turned into thankfulness; the prayer of anguish into the song of praise. Its music, beginning with a plaintive, pathetic minor, passes through a solemn strain of pleading prayer into the triumphant major of full-voiced faith and joy. This is the music to which many a Christian life is set. It is not a strictly prophetic psalm; but we may well suppose that it is one of those in which the "Man of sorrows" read his own experience.
I. DAVID'S PATHETIC APPEAL. "How long," etc.? Two questions run into one. It had endured so long, he felt as if it must go on for ever. The flame of hope flickered in the socket. Total darkness seemed at hand. Did David really think God had forgotten him? No; but he felt as if it were so. "Not that faith in God's promises was dead in his soul, or that he no longer relied on his grace; but that, when troubles long press upon us, and no token of Divine help appears, this thought cannot fail to thrust itself into our mind, 'God has forgotten me'" (Calvin). Causes of his despondency.
1. The long continuance of his trouble.
2. Prayer seeming to remain unanswered.
3. His foes' exaltation.
4. Fear lest he should die before deliverance came (see 1 Samuel 27:1).
II. DAVID'S JOYFUL THANKSGIVING. "I will sing," etc. Light suddenly breaks out of darkness. What is the secret of this surprising change? Have his troubles ceased? Not at all. But that which made their worst bitterness is gone—his doubt of God's goodness and truth. In the very act of prayer, his mind is led out of himself, and faith rekindled. "The grace of God, which is hid from carnal apprehension, is grasped by faith" (Calvin). Despair said, "Faith is an illusion. I have trusted and am forsaken." Faith answers, "God is faithful. I have trusted; therefore I cannot be forsaken."
HOMILIES BY C. CLEMANCE
Sorrow and trust; sighing and song.
This is one of those numerous psalms which come under the first division specified in our introductory homily. It belongs to those which give us an insight into the religious experiences of an Old Testament saint—probably David—but it matters not whose they were. For they are a precise reflection of the alternations of spiritual mood through which many a sorrowful believer since then has passed; yea, through the like of which many of our readers may be passing now. We can never be too thankful for such psalms as these, showing us, as they do, not so much the objectivities of Divine revelation, as the subjectivities of inward experience. Not that we are bound, in our experience, to find that which corresponds to every phase. By no means. Experienced nurses say that no two babes ever cried exactly alike; and certainly no two children of God ever went through precisely the same experience. Still, the course pursued by the early believers is a fine lesson-book for modern ones. We shall find our study of this psalm suggestive of much in the experience of believers and in the dealings of God with them.
I. HERE ARE REMARKABLE ALTERNATIONS OF MOOD AND EMOTION. £ There are seven notes in music; there are seven colours in light. If there are seven stages in religious emotion, surely this psalm notes them all. We have a believer:
1. Thinking himself shut off from God. "How long wilt thou forget me … hide thy face from me?" It does not follow that God had hidden his face; and assuredly he had not forgotten the troubled one. Had it been so, the afflicted one had not survived to offer this prayer. Note: It is not in the midst of sore anguish that we can rightly gauge the mind of God towards us. We may be the objects of tenderest compassion even when our sun seems to be eclipsed.
2. Fearing his adversaries. (See Psalms 13:4.) He was evidently surrounded by those who lay in wait for him. He could have faced them boldly had it not been for the hiding of God's face. But that made him tremble, and no wonder.
3. Sorrowfully musing. (Psalms 13:2.) What a tumult of agitation was he now passing through! And what a bewildered and bewildering host of troublous thoughts and queries seize the mind at such times as these!
4. Sinking under the pressure. (Psalms 13:3.) The phrase indicates that the psalmist was at the very verge of despair. "Courage almost gone." So that his spirit is failing or his bodily frame is giving way. The writer may mean either or both. £
5. Trusting. (Psalms 13:5.) "The darkest hour is just before the dawn." The woe reaches its deepest and bitterest; and then—trust prevents absolute despair. The renewed heart clings to God, even in the dark. And he to whom our spirit thus clings will appear for us at the right time, and in his own wonder-working way.
6. Trust leads to prayer. The whole psalm is a prayer. One of the greatest blessings in life is to have a friend who will never misunderstand us; and by whom all our unintelligible and contradictory words will be pitied, and not blamed; who will bury our follies in his own love. But there is only One in whom all this exists to perfection—even our God. He never misinterprets the language of broken hearts and bewildered souls—never! We may always tell him exactly what we feel, as we feel it; or, if words will not come, then "our groaning" is not hid from him. He will answer us, not according to our imperfection, but will do exceeding abundantly for us "above all that we can ask or think." The fourth verse may not and does not give us the highest style of pleading. But it indicates the burden on the heart. And whatsoever is a burden on a child's heart is to the Father an object of loving concern, and maybe rolled over on to God (Psalms 55:22; Psalms 142:1-7).
7. Deliverance comes in answer to prayer. And thus it ever will be. So that he who moans at the beginning of prayer may sing at the end of it. "I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me." Thus does this psalm run through the various shades or stages of emotion. Having gone down to the depths of the valley of anguish, the writer comes at length to stand on the heights of the mount of praise!
II. SUCH A REHEARSAL OF EXPERIENCE THROWS MUCH LIGHT ON THE SECRET DEALINGS OF GOD WITH HIS PEOPLE. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him," says the psalmist elsewhere (Psalms 25:14). And this thirteenth psalm lets us into it. It teaches us:
1. That the child of God is the object of the Father's tenderest pity and love, even at the moment of tumultuous anguish and deep darkness of soul. The sun shines just as brightly on us, even when a film over the eyes obscures our sight of it. Saints are never nearer or dearer to the heart of God than when they are in trouble.
2. God graciously sanctifies the anguish, and makes it the means of quickening to intenser devotion. It is not when all is calm that prayer is at its best. Ah, no! It is when we are stunned, startled, half-paralyzed by some dreadful and unexpected trial, that we pray the most earnestly. It is quite possible that at such times words may fail; but God reads deep meaning in the tear, and hears heavenly eloquence in the sighs of those that seek him.
3. The anguish will be removed in God's own time. When the trial sent us has secured its needed end in the quickening of devotion, the strengthening of faith, and the improvement of the whole life, then will the pressure be taken off. Nor ought we to desire it otherwise. It is far more important to have our afflictions sanctified than to have them removed.
4. By the very trials through which we have passed we shall have learnt to be comforters of others. If the psalmist had known that the written experience of his sorrows and his songs would have gone down to hundreds of generations, to comfort sorrowing souls in all time, he would have been thankful for his trouble, sharp as it was. Note:
(1) It is only those who have gone through trouble that can effectually be comforters of others (2 Corinthians 1:6; cf. Hebrews 2:18).
(2) It is not to be supposed that merely because we have sorrow at one moment we shall have joy in the future. Only God's mourners can expect God's comforts. Matthew 5:4 is for those named in Matthew 5:3. The vast difference pointed out in Isaiah 50:10, Isaiah 50:11 should be reverently and anxiously pondered.
(3) It is only the renewed soul that can possibly thus trust, pray, and plead, when in the midst of anguish. The supreme concern of each is to accept peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ; to have sin forgiven, and the soul renewed. He who has first cast his burden of sin and guilt on an atoning Saviour, and who is being renewed by the Holy Ghost, may come every day and cast any care, and all his care, upon his Father, God.
(4) It is infinitely better to be in the depth of the valley of sorrow, as a good man, and to let our God lead us up to the height of joy, than, as a godless man, to be at the height of merriment and laughter for awhile, only to sink to the depths of despair.—C.
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
From despondency to peace.
The soul may pass quickly from one emotion to another—from fear to hope, from the gloom of despondency to the brightness of peace. Such a change finds expression in this psalm.
I. THE CRY. (Psalms 13:1, Psalms 13:2.) Under the pressure of affliction, hard thoughts of God arise. But if there be complaint of God, it is to be observed that the complaint is carried to God. Instead of sullen murmuring, there is meek confession. Instead of bitter resentment, there is affectionate remonstrance. There is not only the "taking counsel with his own soul," which left him in deeper "sorrow," but there is the going out of himself, to cast his cares upon God, whereby he finds relief,
II. THE APPEAL. (Psalms 13:3, Psalms 13:4.) Led by the Spirit, the child of God quickly turns his cry of pain into a prayer for spiritual help. The shadows were deepening; night, with its sleep of death, seemed near; but God was able to bring deliverance. Hence the urgent and passionate appeal. So when we are in peril let us cry to God. Our extremity is his opportunity. Our time of need is his time of mercy.
III. THE TESTIMONY. (Psalms 13:5, Psalms 13:6.) Help seems to have come to the psalmist as to Daniel; while he was yet "speaking in prayer" (Daniel 9:20, Daniel 9:21). So it often is. God is more ready to hear than we are to ask. "He waiteth to be gracious."
1. The peace given is real. There may still be storm without, but there is calm within.
2. The confidence is comforting. Imagination no longer works by fear, but by hope, and brightens all the future. The soul that seemed about to enter the dark valley of the shadow of death, with the terrible fear that God was departed, now rejoices in the sunshine of God's presence (Micah 7:9; Zechariah 14:7).—W.F.
God's averted face.
The hiding of God's face is a sore trial to his people. If they did not love him, they could bear it; but as they love him so much, it is a great affliction. It may be said of such trials, that they are still harder to bear under the gospel. For the very fact that God once dwelt with men—going in and out among them as one of themselves, loving them, and doing them good—makes the mystery of his silence now the deeper, and our distress the greater. "Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled" (Psalms 30:7; cf. Job 13:24).
1. This conduct on the part of our Lord seems alien to his nature. We expect a friend to show himself friendly. We blame a physician if he comes not at once when urgently summoned. We would call a father or mother unfeeling and unnatural who shut their ears to the cries of their own child.
2. Then this silence of our Lord seems contrary to his action when he was in the world. He was then easy of access, and ready to help. True, he at first refused the Syro-phoenician; but he gave her all she asked in the end. True, he delayed coming to Bethany; but he did come, in his own time, and turned the house of mourning into a home of joy.
3. Then, again, we have our Lord's teaching and promises. We remember what is said, that we should "not hide ourselves from our own flesh" (Isaiah 58:7); how we are taught to show kindness to our enemies, and even to have pity on the very brutes (Deuteronomy 22:1-4; Matthew 12:12); and "how much is a man better than a sheep!" We think also of the parables of Lazarus, and of the man who fell among thieves, and our hearts are in perplexity. "I weep … because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me" (Lamentations 1:16). Besides, we remember our Lord's promises. It cannot be that he does not know; or that he lacks the power; or that his love is waxed cold. Why, then, does he let us lie at his gate; or leave us half-dead by the wayside; or fail to come to us when we are "comfortless"? These and such-like thoughts rise and trouble us. Our hearts are like a tree, with its many branches, tossed and torn by the storm. But in the multitude of our thoughts within us, there are comforts still left to us. First, Christ is not changed. Next, he knows all that has come to us, and has pity. Then, he has his own gracious purposes in our afflictions. They are necessary for our good (Isaiah 59:2; Hosea 5:15). Then we should not count such trials as strange, as we are under a spiritual dispensation. Christ is really with us still, in his Word and Spirit and the ministry of his people. He even comes at times to us, when we know him not (Matthew 25:38). Then we should remember that he has, for a season, put a restraint upon himself. We may say, like Martha, "If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." And this is true. But our Lord could not be here with us, as in the days of Iris flesh, and at the same time carry out his plans of discipline and training under the Spirit. Last of all, let us remember that these trials are temporary. They may end here. They will certainly end hereafter. Our Lord knew himself the pain of desertion; and he longs to have us with him, where there shall he no more hidings of his face, or crying, or tears. Let us, therefore, take the counsel of Elihu, "Although thou sayest thou shalt not see him, yet judgment is before him; therefore trust thou in him" (Job 35:14; cf. Isaiah 8:17).—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
The agony of desertion.
Probably a psalm of David, composed at the time of Saul's persecution. It expresses the agony of a mind that thinks itself deserted of God, in danger of death, and threatened by a formidable enemy. It is a long and weary struggle; and, wrestling with his despair, he breaks into a pitiful prayer, which is succeeded by the exercise of a returning faith.
I. DESPAIR. (Psalms 13:1, Psalms 13:2.)
1. He thinks he is for ever forsaken of God. The emphasis lies on the "for ever." How much this implies of delight in the former friendship of God! Compare Christ's cry on the cross.
2. Fruitless efforts of the mind to escape from its position. "Taking counsel," etc. These issue only in continued sorrow of heart. One plan after another is revolved and rejected; one solution after another of his difficulties is thought of, and then dismissed; and he is left in despair. He is helpless and hopeless.
3. Personal danger from some enemy. (Psalms 13:2.) Probably Saul. Internal and external causes combined to make him profoundly miserable.
II. BUT EVEN IN HIS DESPAIR HE PRAYS.
1. Look upon me (equivalent to "consider"). And do not continue to hide thy face.
2. Hear and succour (equivalent to "answer me"). And do not forget me for ever. This is hope out of despair—the single ray of light that shot into his deep darkness. There is something left for each of us.
3. Give a renewed power of life (equivalent to "lighten mine eyes"). Anxiety and sorrow had induced physical depression, and he apprehended that he would sink into the sleep of death. "Lighten mine eyes" here means, "Send back the tide of life, that my eyes may again be lit with life, and the deathlike drowsiness dispelled."
III. PRAYER LEADS HIM BACK INTO TRUST.
1. He remembers the object of his former trust. "In thy loving-kindness have I trusted." Not in his personal merits, nor only in the justice of his cause. Faith grasps the unseen as the pound of its trust.
2. He recollects the reasons of that trust. "Thy salvation," which I have experienced in former times. God's bountiful dealing with him. That had been the rule of the Divine conduct towards him. Faith draws hope out of experience.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25