Ps 13:1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me?
1. Sorrowing, v1f.
Here is the situation,
(a) as it appears to be. God seems to be forgetful, hostile. How strange that David in his despair has not forgotten God, yet he believes that God has forgotten him! It is sustained: How long…? a question repeated four times. How the time drags when the heart is cast down! A week of imprisonment is longer than a month of freedom. Chronic pain has a peculiar grinding, weakening character, and so it is with unabated sorrow. Remember the man who lay at the pool of Bethesda, who had an infirmity thirty eight years, Jn 5:5; the woman who was a cripple for eighteen years, before she was “loosed.” Lk 13:11; Lazarus, who lived all his life in disease and poverty, till he was released by death and transferred to Abraham’s bosom, Lk 16:20-22.
…forever? – It has continued so long that he fears that God will never remember him again. But the Omniscient has no lapses of memory. The divine Father does not forget his beloved child. Isa 49:14f ‘But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!’ So:-
(b) as it really is. God may hide his face, but he does not forget. ‘A hidden face is no sign of a forgetful heart.’ (Spurgeon) we are subject to darkness of various kinds: physical, intellectual. But there is no darkness so dreadful as spiritual darkness, just as there is no joy so great as the Father’s smile.
Why does God hide his face?
(a) to demonstrate our dependence on him;
(b) to discipline us, Heb 12:5-11;
(c) to develop graces such as faith, patience, humility; and these graces are exercised in prayer. Notice that David, for all his despair, is driven to prayer, not driven from it. There would be no harvest, if there was nothing but fine weather. An Arab proverb says, “All sun makes a desert”;
(d) to put us on our guard against sin; Job 10:2 “I will say to God: Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me.”
(e) to equip us for helping others.
‘Being honest with God about our feelings is our first step toward victory. Sometimes all we need to do is talk over a problem with a friend to help put it in perspective. In this psalm, the phrase “how long” occurs four times in the first two verses, indicating the depth of David’s distress. David expressed his feelings to God and found strength. By the end of his prayer, he was able to express hope and trust in God. Through prayer we can express our feelings and talk our problems out with God. He helps us regain the right perspective, and this gives us peace.’ (Hab 3:17-19) (HBA)
Ps 13:2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
(iii) inward effects of God hiding his face. The idea of ‘laying up pain’ in the soul: of ruminating on trouble, of chewing a bitter pill. David turned over in his mind countless possible solutions to his despair, and gives them all up as being to no avail. Sorrow has a habit of lingering: an old French proverb says that ‘troubles come on horseback but go away on foot’. ‘Long afflictions try our patience and often tire it. It is a common temptation, when trouble lasts long, to think it will last always; despondency then turns into despair, and those that have long been without joy being, at last, to be without hope’ (Matthew Henry).
(iv) outward effects of this. Rubbing salt in the wound; when Satan contrives to make comedies out of our tragedies. They triumph for a while, but we must take the long view, Ps 73:17.
How long? – ‘There are many situations of the believer in this life in which the words of this Psalm may be a consolation, and help to revive sinking faith. A certain man lay at the pool of Bethesda, who had an infirmity thirty and eight years. Jn 5:5. A woman had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, before she was “loosed.” Lk 13:11. Lazarus all his life long laboured under disease and poverty, till he was released by death and transferred to Abraham’s bosom. Lk 16:20-22. Let every one, then, who may be tempted to use the complaints of this Psalm, assure his heart that God does not forget his people, help will come at last, and, in the meantime, all things shall work together for good to them that love him.’ (W. Wilson)
Ps 13:3 Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
2. Supplication, v3f.
The great turning-point; the dawn of hope; the turn of the tide. ‘What should we do if we had no God to turn to in the hour of wretchedness?’ (Spurgeon).
Anything which causes us to pray is good for us. ‘It is better to be praying in the whale’s belly than asleep in the ship’ (Plumer).
‘It is some ease to a troubled spirit to give vent to its griefs, especially to give vent to them at the throne of grace, where we are sure to find one, who is afflicted in the afflictions of his people, and is troubled with the feeling of their infirmities’ (Henry).
He pleads his covenant relationship with God.
Give light to my eyes – ‘Let the eye of faith be clear, that I may see my God in the dark’ (Spurgeon).
Or I will sleep in death – God must return, else I shall die broken-hearted. Note, death is normally viewed by believers as ‘better by far’, Php 1:23, but is here dreaded.
Ps 13:4 my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
This is a prayer which will certainly be answered: before Satan can defeat us, he must first conquer God.
Ps 13:5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
3. Singing, v5f.
What a change between the beginning of the psalm and the end! The clouds have lifted; the sun shines again. The mourners’ sobbing is replaced by the praise of the worshiper.
I trust in your unfailing love – he reflects that the Lord has been his strong castle for many a year, and he rests secure behind those battlements still.
God’s giving far exceeds man’s asking.
Ps 13:6 I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
In these two latter verses, we find what it is that has been put right: his heart (‘my heart rejoices’), his voice (‘I will sing’), his judgement (‘for he has been good to me’).
This verse, along with v1 and v5, recalls that it is through prayer that struggling faith is strengthened and confirmed. Prayer is to the soul what exercise is to the body.
I will sing to the Lord, for… – or, ‘because’. After considering and weighing the matter, David recognises that he has ample reason to sings God’s praise.
He has been good to me – ‘I thought he had forgotten me, but now I know that even when I could not see his face or sense his presence, he was dealing graciously with me.’ David refutes his own charge that God has forgotten him (v1). We too can draw encouragement for the future from remembrance of past mercies. Let not our sorrows drive us from prayer, but to it. Then we, like David, may kneel down to pray as he kneeled down, full of darkness, and rise from prayer as he rose, full of light.
‘Thus his faith lays the cloth, expecting a feast ere long to be set on: he that now questioned whether he should ever hear good news from heaven, is so strong in faith as to make himself merry with the hopes of that mercy which he is assured will come at last.’ (Gurnall)
Concluding thoughts on this Psalm.
Days of spiritual darkness are no new thing. Christians are apt to look back at the past with nostalgia, imagining that those were days of golden sunshine, these are times of ever-increasing darkness. But there has always been a mixture of sunshine and showers, and of longer periods of brightness alternating with overcast skies which, it seemed, would never clear. Even the sinless one cried out in grief, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
In the repeated expression, ‘How long…’, David expresses his feeling that God was slow to act on his behalf. We too can feel impatience. We feel that evil goes unpunished, while the people of God suffer. David came to affirm that he would trust God to be as gracious to him now as he had been in the past.
To feel forsaken by God for a period of time is a most terrible thing. How much more should people fear actually being forsaken by his for eternity!
It is often said that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. To share our thoughts and feelings with a sympathetic friend may be all that is required to reach a resolution. How much more should we value the opportunity to share our problems with almighty God! It is through communion with him that we regain a correct perspective and recover our sense of peace and joy. The sorrower turned into the singer because of the supplicator: he pleaded with God. Let us spread our troubles out before the Lord. And, just as we might leave a legal problems in the safe hands of a solicitor, let us leave our spiritual problems in the far safer hands of Almighty God.