The brevity of Psalm 13 should not lead
us to think that it is unimportant. David, inspired by the Holy
Spirit, presents us with a psalm that not only struggles with those
moments when God seems silent, but gives us a beautiful model for
prayer at the same time. David wrestles with those questions which
beset all of us from time to time: why does God seem so far away in
the midst of my troubles?
This psalm has three sections of two
verses each, yet in these few lines David presents a remarkable
transition. Psalm 13 opens with all the fury of a storm and closes
with all the calm of a storm that is past.
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of
How long, LORD? Will you forget me
forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long will I take counsel in my
soul, sorrow in my heart day by day? How long will my enemy be
exalted over me?
not certain what prompted David to write this psalm, whether his
troubles with Saul, Absalom, or some other event. Whatever the
occasion, the result is the same. God seems to be far off when
everything is going wrong. As with all psalms which cry out to God
in the midst of trouble, however, Psalm 13 should not be interpreted
as moping or having an inward, depressed focus. The soul which
despairs of God’s mercy would not pray. It is only the Christian who
knows that God will answer, even in the worst of circumstances, that
can pray. Even if the tone seems desperate, it still cries to God
confidently knowing He will hear.
this confidence doesn’t mitigate the intense struggle. These
questions are not seeking answers, but rather giving vent to the
state of the soul. For that reason, the first question is the most
intense. It is not the problems of life that cause such distress,
but God’s seeming distance and forgetfulness. This seeming absence
sparks terror, because God’s face seems to have looked away.
Deuteronomy 31:17-18 describes this looking away as God’s wrath,
while in Numbers 6:25, God looking on us with His face is a sign of
His favor. However, for the Christian, it only seems as if God looks
away, because God sometimes withdraws Himself from His people (Song
of Solomon 3:1-4; Hebrews 12:3-17). In this, we see a picture of
Christ’s own anguish on the cross. The difference, however, is that
Christ’s abandonment was real, not perceived, yet He still cried out
to the Father with the trusting words of Psalm 22.
Look at, answer me, LORD my God.
Light up my eyes lest I sleep in death.
Lest my enemy says, “I have
prevailed over him.” My oppressors rejoice when I am made to
distress of the first section has given way to the firm confidence of
prayer. Having given vent to his soul, David calls on the Lord to
answer him. “My God,” though frequently abused as a term, is a
beautiful expression of our election in God. God has made us His
own, and we belong to Him personally, even when it seems like He has
turned away. The terror of God’s seeming absence cannot overwhelm
the truth that He is “the LORD my God.”
may be regarded as dark for a couple of reasons. The first is that
death is actually looming, and the eyes are darkening as a forerunner
of the grave (Proverbs 29:13; 1 Samuel 14:27; indirectly in
Ecclesiastes 12:1-3). Lighting up the eyes, then, is a call to bring
back from the threat of death. Death is a place of silence, and
therefore David could not praise the deeds of the Lord before the
congregation there (Psalm 6:5). The other reason is that death is
metaphorical for the deep distress of his soul (Ezra 9:8). I think
either could work here.
moves the Lord to action through this prayer, because he bases it on
firm promises which the Lord has made. God’s glory and honor are at
stake in this moment. If the enemy can say, “I have prevailed over
him,” then it would seem that God either has broken His promises or
that He is unable to keep them, both of which are manifestly untrue!
Why should Egypt say that He brought them out to kill them (Exodus
32:12)? Why should the nations say, “Where is their God” (Psalm
79:10)? Why should the enemies of God blaspheme Him by triumphing
over His people (Deuteronomy 32:27)? “It is not for your sake,”
says the Lord, “that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy
name” (Ezekiel 36:22).
But I in your steadfast love have
trusted. My heart will rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD who has
shown himself to me.
has now become calm, like Christ stilling the storm (Matthew 8:26).
This trust is not based in emotions, though one may feel emotionally
calm at the same time. Rather, this trust bases itself on God’s
steadfast love. Nor should we understand steadfast love as an
intense feeling either. This is God’s unwavering faithfulness, the
love He shows to us and has promised to us. God cannot lie,
therefore His steadfast love is unwavering. This is the ground of
our confidence, because in His Son Jesus Christ, the Lord’s steadfast
love for His people reveals itself. It is a peace and joy which
comes in Christ and is like nothing else (John 14:27). Even if the
troubles of life continue, they will not go on forever. We can put
our trust in God’s promises, so that even when He seems far away, He
has promised to hear us when we cry to Him.
also that while the wicked rejoice in the downfall of the righteous,
the righteous rejoice in the salvation of the Lord. The wicked man
trusts in what is ultimately fleeting and transitory, like putting
his trust in his own destruction (Psalm 52:7). However, the godly
man trusts in what is everlasting and sure, because the Lord will not
forsake those who trust in Him. Weeping may tarry for the night, but
joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).
addendum, the Septuagint interestingly adds the following phrase to
[and I will sing to the name of the
Lord Most High.]
does this is not clear, though it is reflected in translations based
on it and on translations based on the Latin Vulgate. The psalms
frequently present ideas in pairs, and it may be that verse 6 is only
“half” a verse. Perhaps the Septuagint took this from a unique
variation in the texts it translated. Perhaps someone added this in
order to fill in the “other half” of verse 6. Whatever the
reason, the effect is the same: David praises the name of God for
all that He has done in delivering him from trouble.