13 How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?
2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;
4 Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
5 But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.
6 I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.
The writer of Hebrews informs us that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy beyond it (Heb. 12:2). Paul wrote to the Corinthians to encourage them that suffering and affliction were a natural part of the course prepared for believers (2 Cor 1:3–11). The strange cohabitation of anguish in the soul and deep faith in the believer are united by petitional prayer for God’s deliverance.
Psalm 13 is an individual lament psalm with one of the simplest structures of any of the Psalms. It begins with a lament (vv. 1–2), followed by a petition (vv. 3–4), and closes with a claim of confidence (vv. 5–6).
David inquired about God’s neglect of him (v. 1). The lament begins with four rhetorical questions directed at YHWH. The theme of abandonment is introduced in the query. The trouble is not explicitly stated, but this is part of the timeless beauty of the psalms. David’s abandonment lament resounds with Jesus quoting Psalm 22:1 in His protest of being forsaken. The believer who prays the psalms, today, can certainly relate to the sense of being distanced from God at points in his life.
“Hide Thy face” is anthropomorphic imagery for alienation and the curse of absence. Despite the feelings of despair and depression, the psalmist clearly desires a personal relationship with YHWH. The echo of Psalm 6:3 reminds us of David’s dismay and request for YHWH’s return, but as it is here, he is forced to wait and ask, “How long?”
David inquired about his public suffering at the hands of his foes (v. 2). Depression invites unhealthy conversations with oneself. The heart was the seat of thinking, hence, counsel, in the ancient near east. It was also the seat of emotion, along with the bowels, but clearly the place of sorrow. “All the day” suggests a continual grief.
The psalmist coincidentally despairs the presence of his enemies and the absence of God. His adversaries clearly have the upper hand in the situation. The depth of lament cannot be underestimated. Waiting on God can become an exercise in self-inflicted torment. The external enemy is joined by the enemy within. The common theme of waiting on God is prevalent in the psalms. Except for sporadic answering oracles, God does not typically offer a response. Still, by faith, the prayer of lament transitions into a prayer of petition.
David pleaded for God’s attention to his life-or-death situation (v. 3). In contrast with God “forgetting,” David petitions YHWH to “consider.” The request for “answers” relates to his four questions. The petition for God to “enlighten my eyes” would contrast with God hiding His face. The final stanza in verse 3 is peculiar, “sleep the sleep of death.” Death, by appearance, is like someone sleeping. The issue in sleep or death is inactivity. There is no bearing witness, nor praise offered in worship.
David argued his demise would produce a joyful boast from his enemies (v. 4). The wicked boast about their gain in wealth and power over the righteous (12:2–4). The exaltation of evil (12:1, 8) reduces the righteous numerically and results in declining obedience and worship toward God. Joy for the wicked is to see their opponents disturbed. The wicked will offer nothing to God; therefore, the affliction of the righteous is an affront to God.
David articulated his faith in God’s power to deliver him (v. 5). The “But I…” is emphatic in the Hebrew. In addition, “But” is normally disjunctive as a conjunction, but it also doubles as a connection between the prayer of petition and the claim of confidence. The transition is profound. It would be right for us to inquire why confidence has come. The logical conclusion would be for us to see the catalyst between lament and trust is prayer. Prayer has brought focus away from self and put it on God.
The covenant relationship between the psalmist and YHWH is bolstered by the reason for trust, which is God’s faithful love (Heb. hesed). The rejoicing of the psalmist is contrasted with the rejoicing of the wicked. The joy of the righteous is God’s salvation, while the joy of the wicked is the downfall of the righteous. The verb in the first colon of v. 5 is past tense. The promise to rejoice is future tense. David is offering his future praise for deliverance in the present.
David promised to worship God in response to his vindication (v. 6). The song of the redeemed is offered as a sacrifice of praise whenever salvation is reflected on. The verbs here move from future tense to perfect tense. In the future, and in reflecting on deliverance, David plans to worship YHWH, the God of his salvation.
In sum, we have a prayer of lament becoming a petition that transforms the psalmist’s disposition into confidence in God. The power of prayer to lift the soul in God’s people highlights the truth of God’s presence.
God is with us, and we are compelled to call upon the name of the Lord to be delivered (Joel 2:32; Rom 10:13). He has not forgotten you. He is not hiding His face from you. He hears your cry and sees your plight. Pray your lament. Pray your petitions, and trust in the Lord with all your heart.
The joy of the Lord is your strength in overcoming your enemies, of which death looms large. The apostle Paul trusted the work of Christ on the cross, in securing the victory over sin, death, and the devil. The enemy taunts God’s people, but the truth sets them free (Jn 8:32). I will sing to the Lord and rejoice in my salvation!
Spokane Valley, Washington
June 1, 2021