The Book of Psalms Chapter Thirteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Verse 1: "13 How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?" The author of this Psalm, this song, this prayer, was David, the King of Israel. His childhood was spent as a shepherd boy, the youngest in a family of several sons. It's hard to imagine David as a person who felt "forgotten" by the Lord He loved, but he did indeed feel neglected and alone at the moment. Concern, depression, worry, prayer, hope—all of that and more filled the soul of David the song-writer and king. He was vulnerable and he knew it, and his vulnerability was like a mirror that reflected back his need of God. Have you ever thought of it that way? Has it occurred to you that your emotional suffering is intended to reflect your need of God back to you? Is that "mirror" reflecting something you likely don't WANT to see? David knew he would not live forever in his present circumstances, and yet the feeling of being isolated and alone in suffering can seem like "forever" to us, just as it did to David. Note that his suffering was not merely about him—because it also affected his family, friends, subordinates, and since he was the king, it affected the whole nation. He was afraid and it felt to him like God was ignoring his need. He was deeply troubled. You or someone you know may suffer in just the same manner expressed in this poem, this song of David, and note what he did—he persisted in prayer. He told God about his doubts, his fears, revealing everything to the One, the only One who could help him.
Verse 2: "How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?" Matthew 11:17 reflects an aspect of Jewish culture in those years. During weddings, funerals and other events, flutists would fill the air with music and within those ceremonies, dancers would perform at appropriate times. Professional mourners were hired also. Teaching about John the Baptist, Jesus cited words from the culture, including, "We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we mourned to you, and you did not lament." At some point in our lives, most of us have prayed to the Lord with statements similar to these: "God, if You do (what I want) I will believe in You... if You help me I will give my life to You..." and more. The unspoken assumption in such prayers is that the Lord is like an assistant hired to play certain music for a special event. If the music is just as we want it to be, we will pay the musicians, and if it isn't, we won't. The reality about the Lord is the other way around—we are the assistants and HE is in charge. When we give our lives to Him with no ulterior motives, no conditions, we begin to discover that He is leading us on a journey of HIS choosing. We are privileged to be on this pilgrimage with Him, but He is the One calling the shots. Another privilege is prayer—the King listens to us at all times, but prayer is not in any way telling Him what to do. As Scripture teaches, "if we ask anything according to HIS WILL, He hears us, and... we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him" (1 John 5:14-15). Life is not just about you or me, for what happens to us affects others as well. What might seem to us as obviously the only right way of doing things, may lead to outcomes that have the wrong impact on many people, some of whom we don't even know. Like David did, we can ask, and God loves it when we do, but the answer may be "Yes... No... (or) Wait," or something we didn't even remotely expect because we don't comprehend the complexity of God's decisions. He will do what's best, though we may not understand. It isn't just about us. God WILL answer in the right way, and faith recognizes that He knows what He's doing.
Verse 3: "Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death," David became the king, the leader of a nation, and like Moses before him, at least a great part of his training for the position had come from tending sheep! Down inside was an awareness that he, like everybody else, was actually insufficient for what God had called him to do. David wanted to know what was going on—why was this happening? He felt that if he didn't have more information, he would DIE! As the king, he was supposed to KNOW! He needed to learn, like we do, that faith in the Lord is infinitely better and more satisfying than mere knowledge; especially when the situation is ultimately out of our control. He wasn't getting the answer, he didn't seem to be any closer to understanding what was happening, and it was driving him nuts! Somehow, faith grows when the situation is desperate and events are seemingly impossible for us to deal with. "I think I'm going to die!" is often followed by "Help me, Lord!" which leads to—faith. It's better to relate to the Lord in faith than to merely know what's going on... even when you think you'll die unless you know. Tell God—you'll be glad you did.
Verse 4: "And my enemy will say, 'I have overcome him,' And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken." David's reputation was at stake here. Everybody in the whole country was looking to him for a solution, and he did not know what to do. He had enemies, and it's true for everybody—the more you have in life, the more you seem to be, you will find that you have acquired false friends who are actually your enemies. People will subtly or overtly hate you, simply because they are jealous of you. And as David feared, they will be delighted if you stumble and fall in what you have been called to do. "What have I done? Why have You brought me to this place where I am to do something and I don't know how to do it?" And so you are embarrassed in advance about what might go wrong. David certainly remembered what it felt like when he was standing in victory over the dead body of his huge adversary, Goliath, and he didn't want his own enemies to feel that way about him. He shuddered at the thought of his enemies rejoicing over his possible defeat, and so he continued to plead with the Lord for help. He did what we must do—he told God.
Verse 5: "But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation." I have a dried seed from an orange tree next to my computer keyboard. It will continually appear to endlessly do nothing until it is planted in the ground and given proper nutrients. Then it has the potential to produce whole groves of orange trees. That's the promise God has placed within the seed—"if you plant me," the seed announces, "I will grow." When we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, a seed of LIFE from eternity is planted within us, just it was in the heart of David the shepherd boy, musician and king. A song is poetry set to music—what the poet sees, hears about with interest, or longs for is revealed—and in that poem, the expression of his or her heart, we glimpse the author's soul. David KNEW afresh in this moment that God had created Israel with a special, lasting purpose. A valid "contract" exists between God and that nation. David likely didn't know the name "Jesus Christ" as we do, but he called out to the Lord and trusted in Him as we all should. Later in time, God's contract to the WORLD was offered when Jesus died for us and rose again. He gave His body, His life, His blood, and in exchange, we give our own lives to Him. The Seed of God is planted within us through faith, and the proper nutrients are delivered to us at just the right moments. The Holy Spirit is the Master Gardener and we can sing with David, "My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation," because I have "trusted" in You. Tell God—tell Him your fears and praise Him in gratitude for what He has done.
Verse 6: "I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me." David was now done for the moment with doubt, which is a negative force not unlike weeds growing in a garden of fear. Faith, on the other hand, is the antidote for fear and unbelief. The Lord loves us, and when we place our trust in Him, His love, hope, peace and faith begin to appear within the garden He tends (the center of our being)—much like good fruit from healthy trees. Was David done with fear? No he wasn't, but the seed of God within him was growing, and the right "nutrients" were in his life, leading him to effective, appropriate prayer. David was now reflecting, remembering the times God had delivered him and his nation, and he was rediscovering in this time of prayer, the wonder of praise. Prayer expressed in praise is more than just reciting words or asking for something... It is an actual ENCOUNTER with Almighty God. It's a wonderful hug from the Lord deep in the soul, as we joyfully meet Him in our spirit, in the center of what we are. David SANG to the Lord, which you can do also, and it doesn't have to be on-key. To God, the noise you make in the song of praise is beauty personified. Always remember that you actually have an audience of One—and He is the Lord. Sing praise to Him, "Because He has dealt bountifully with (you and with) me." Tell Him, and He loves it when you do.
Father, I have been afraid—I have felt alone and I have doubted. I confess my sin of unbelief and trust in You now. I am Yours, Lord. I commit my very being to You. I believe, Lord. Fill me, Holy Spirit. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.