Once again we have a psalm of lament in which the psalmist cries out to the Lord for help and for relief.
Isn’t it interesting that so many of these early psalms are psalms of lament? Psalm 3 is a lament. Psalm 4 is a lament. Psalm 5 is a lament. So is Psalm 6 and Psalm 7 and Psalm 10 and Psalm 11 and Psalm 12. They’re all lamentations. And it’s a reminder — isn’t it? — that the believer’s life is often a life of sorrow and suffering and trials and troubles. That was true for believers in Old Testament times; and it’s been true for believers in every generation right up to today.
This is our experience, because we live in a fallen world and things are not the way they’re supposed to be. When God made the world, everything was very good. But everything changed and everything was spoiled once Adam disobeyed the Lord and took the forbidden fruit. And so, life now is hard and there’s sorrow and suffering and mourning and death. Things happen in our everyday lives which make us lament before the Lord.
But then, this is also our experience because we’re believers and we have an enemy — the enemy of our souls — who hates the Lord and his people and who will do whatever he can to oppose Christ and his church. And so, the Devil tries to destroy our faith by stirring up opposition and trouble against us. And that too makes us lament before the Lord.
But, of course, this is our experience because this was the experience of our Saviour. I’ve been making the point that these psalms of lament — written by David, who was God’s Anointed King — point to Christ, who is God’s Everlasting Anointed King. David’s sorrow and suffering anticipate the sorrow and suffering of Christ our Saviour, who was a man of sorrows and a man who was familiar with suffering. He was despised and he was smitten and afflicted and pierced an crushed and oppressed. The Lord’s life was a life of suffering; and if our master suffered and was despised and mistreated, then his servants will suffer and will be despised and mistreated too. And so, these psalms of lament express the sorrow and suffering of our Saviour; and they express our sorrow and suffering too.
Today’s psalm — Psalm 13 — can be divided into three parts. In verses 1 and 2, the psalmist expresses his lamentation to the Lord. In verses 3 and 4, he makes his request to the Lord. And in verses 5 and 6, he expresses his faith in the Lord.
Verses 1 and 2
‘How long, O Lord?’ That’s how the psalm begins. And the psalmist repeats the same question three more times: How long? How long? How long? How long, O Lord. Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
He’s not really looking for information, is he? He’s not really expecting the Lord to answer him and say ‘two more days’ or ‘two more weeks’. No, he’s expressing his misery and his sorrow. He’s expressing his complaint to the Lord, because it seems to him that the Lord has forgotten all about him; and he’s lamenting the fact that God has not delivered him. So, how long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? Well, God doesn’t forget anything, does he? And the psalmist knows that. God’s memory, like his knowledge, is perfect and he doesn’t forget things the way we forget a person’s name or we forget an appointment or we forget to pray for someone who is in need. We forget all the time, but the Lord doesn’t ever forget. So, when the psalmist wonders if God will forget him forever, he means: Will God ever come to help me? So, he’s wondering: How long must I go on like this? How long must I endure this trouble? Will God ever come to my help?
He also laments because it seems that the Lord has hidden his face from him. Well, do you remember the Aaronic Blessing from Numbers 6?
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord makes his face to shine up you and be gracious to you….
Making his face shine on his people means the Lord is smiling on his people and he’s looking on them with his favour and he’s prepared to be gracious and kind to them. And so, hiding his face means he’s turned away from his people and he’s no longer smiling on them or looking on them with his favour. He’s turned his back on them. Or so it seems to the psalmist.
And then he asks:
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
He’s wrestling with his thoughts perhaps because he’s trying to figure out why the Lord is letting him suffer like this. Or perhaps he’s trying to figure out a way out of his suffering. What must he do to get out of this difficulty? Or perhaps he’s referring to the way we are when we worry, because when we’re worried about something, we can’t stop thinking about it and the same thoughts go around and around and around in our head.
And look: every day he has sorrow in his heart. So, this is not a temporary condition, but it seems to the psalmist that it’s been going on day after day after day without any relief and without any end in sight. And the sorrow is in his heart. So, he’s not referring so much to physical pain, but to something emotional or spiritual. He was filled with a sadness, a sorrow, with depression every day.
However, he’s also faced with an enemy. There’s no indication who or what this enemy is. Perhaps it’s a person: and certainly David had many enemies including Saul who wanted to kill him and his son Absalom who betrayed him. But since he refers to death in verse 3, some commentators think his enemy is an illness which threatens his life. However, in one sense it doesn’t really matter who or what the enemy is, because it enables us to adopt this psalm for our own use. So, whatever enemy we face, whatever trouble we encounter, we can take up this psalm and use it to express our own sorrow and lamentation to the Lord.
Verses 3 and 4
And having expressed his lamentation in verses 1 and 2, he then makes his request in verses 3 and 4. Since it seems that the Lord has turned his face away, he asks the Lord in verse 3 to look on him once again. Since it seems that the Lord has forgotten him, he asks the Lord to answer him. And he prays to the Lord and asks him to give light to his eyes. He’s asking the Lord to give him relief and to revive and refresh him. Do you remember the story of Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14? Saul’s men were tired and weary, but then Jonathan ate some honey and his eyes brightened. He was revived and re-energised. That’s the picture here: the psalmist is asking the Lord to revive his strength to enable him to keep going.
And then David reasons with the Lord. So, he asks the Lord to revive him, otherwise I will die. And if the Lord doesn’t revive him, his enemy will boast over him and his foes will rejoice when he falls. So, don’t give my enemies an opportunity to boast over me. That’s what enemies do, isn’t it? They mock their opponents and take delight when they fall and stumble. So, the psalmist prays to the Lord and asks him to look upon him and to answer him and to revive him so that he will not die and so that his enemies will not triumph over him.
And we should note that that psalmist turns to God and makes his request to God because God is the Lord. That’s Lord in capital letters, which means he’s using God’s special covenant name, the name he revealed to Moses and the name which speaks of his commitment to his people. The Lord has bound himself to his people with an oath. He’s promised to be their God and to help them. So, he’s not a stranger, but he’s ‘my God’. And that’s why we’re to express our lamentation to the Lord. That’s why we’re to go to him with our complaints and our worries and our cares. That’s why we’re to pray to him. We’re to go to him, because he’s the Lord our God, the one who has bound himself to us to be our God forever and forever. He’s the one who has promised never to leave or forsake us. And so, we’re to go to this God with our lamentations and with our requests, because he’s the Lord our God, who has promised to help us.
Verses 5 and 6
Having expressed his lamentation in verses 1 and 2, and having made his request in verses 3 and 4, the psalmist then expresses his faith in verses 5 and 6. He says that he trusts in God’s unfailing love. The Hebrew word translated ‘unfaithful love’ is a word which refers to God’s covenant love. So, it’s his steadfast love or his loyal love, the love which he has for his people which never comes to an end and which means salvation for his people. Because of the Lord’s unfailing love for his people, he will act to save his people and to deliver them from their troubles. And so, the psalmist says he will sing to the Lord, because the Lord has been good to him.
A question to ponder is what has changed between verses 1 to 4 and verses 5 and 6. Has the situation changed? Has the trouble come to an end and has the psalmist’s enemy been defeated? Has God rescued the psalmist? It’s possible that this is the case and we’re to imagine that between the prayer of verses 3 and 4 and the praise of verses 5 and 6 the Lord has come and delivered his servant. However, it’s also possible that the thing that has changed is not the circumstances of the psalmist, but the psalmist himself. How often have we got down on our knees to pray to the Lord, lamenting before him the trouble we’re in and praying for his help; and then, when we’ve risen from our knees, our mood has changed, because in the course of our praying, we’re been reassured of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness and his commitment to his people. We’ve been reassured that our times are in God’s hands and we can rely on him to help us in his own good time.
This is what believers do, isn’t it? We begin by telling the Lord how awful things are and by asking for his help. But before the prayer is over, we’ve begun to praise him, because while the problem hasn’t changed, and while our circumstances remain the same, we remember that the Lord is good and we can trust in him. While our deliverance may still be far off, we can see that it will come in God’s good time. And so, we’re able to keep going and to wait for it, just as we wait for the end of the night and the morning to come. At times like that, we praise the Lord in anticipation of the deliverance that will surely come. And in the meantime, while we wait, we believe that the Lord is God and he’s still on his throne, he’s still in charge and he’s working out his plan for the world and for us.
Psalm 13 anticipates the suffering of the Lord Jesus. Though he was innocent, his enemies plotted against him and he was taken away and crucified on the cross, where he suffered, not just the physical pain of the cross, but the wrath of God against our sins. He himself was sinless, but he took the blame for us and suffered in our place. And on the cross, he didn’t cry out, ‘How long, O Lord?’ but he did cry out something very similar. He cried out words from Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me?
The words are different, but the sentiment is the same. And God Almighty heard him, because though he died and was buried, his Father raised him from the grave and exalted him over his enemies.
Our Saviour suffered; and we his people are called to suffer too. But when we suffer, we know we can call out to the Lord our God. We can express our lamentation to the Lord. We can make our request to the Lord. And we turn to him like this, because we can trust in him and in his unfailing and steadfast love. And even if the worst thing should happen to us and we die, we know he will raise us from the grave to enjoy everlasting life in the new creation. And so, if God is for us — and he is for us, because he’s bound himself to us and he sent his Son to die for us — if God is for us, who can be against us and succeed?