In Psalm 11, the writer faced a crumbling society in which the righteous were in danger, but he was determined to trust the Lord who had a purpose in allowing horrid conditions. In Psalm 12, the psalmist was confronted with deception all around, but God promised to deliver, even if things remained bad for a while longer. In Psalm 13, David encountered a problem of a different magnitude: God was unresponsive.
1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
This song is often called a lament, beginning with a complaint (vv. 1-2), followed by call for help (vv. 3-4), expression of confidence (v. 5), and praise (v. 6). The psalmist asks the Lord four times, “How long?” Many of us know the feeling of seemingly unending distress. In the Hebrew text, two of the four times he pleads, “How long”, the scribes added a marking to indicate the reader should pause and chant a rising and falling of the voice to highlight the plea, focusing on the hardship of it all.
In Psalm 13, David encountered a problem of a different magnitude: God was unresponsive
Asking if God forgot him, David described God as ignoring him. The apparent evidence of God’s inattention was that He hid His face from his servant. By hiding His face, God would refuse to respond to someone (cf. Psalm 69:17; 102:2; 143:7). God was not answering the psalmist’s prayers. The idea is similar to forgetting God by ignoring His laws and values (Deuteronomy 6:12). Moses warned the Israelites of the risk of not obeying God, and therefore of forgetting Him. Similarly, to David, it seemed God was paying no attention to him.
If God would not respond, the writer had a dialogue within himself. As he mulled over his dire need, he groaned. And to make it worse, he had an enemy who rejoiced in his anguish. God evidently had left him alone, but his adversary had not! He was tormented within and without, and there was no help from above, from the God he trusted.
But trust he would. He would still move toward God, as he says in vv. 3-4: “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.”
He followed his four cries of “How long?” with three petitions: Consider… answer me… light up my eyes!” The Hebrew word translated “consider” means to look with attention or longing (cf. Genesis 19:17, 26). To lighten or enlighten the eyes in this context means to bring refreshment, deliverance, and the accompanying strength and joy (cf. Psalm 38:10; Proverbs 15:30; Ecclesiastes 11:7). Despite the fact that he could not perceive God’s care, he continued to call him “my God.”
After his three petitions, he gave three reasons for God to answer. If God did not respond, David would die, his enemy would believe he had triumphed over him, and even more enemies would rejoice in his being shaken. To be shaken was to be defeated, ruined, or destroyed (cf. Isaiah 23:11; Psalm 16:8; 62:2, 6; Matthew 24:29). If God did not answer, David would be a goner.
But the writer knew what we all need to know: God loved him. He says in v.5, “But I have trusted in Your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.” Whatever else the Bible may not tell us, it is not silent about what God is like. It is the revelation of God, and it repeatedly confirms that God loves His people (cf. Jeremiah 31:3; Deuteronomy 4:37; 7:8, 10:18; 23:5; 33:3; Psalm 146:8; Hosea 11:1; Mark 10:21; John 3:16; 16:27). Regardless of appearances, God loved him, and David trusted this.
The psalmist knew what we all need to know: God loved him, and David trusted Him because of it
The aspect of the verb (that is, the way of looking at the action) indicates that his trust in God’s love is simply a fact. That is, it is not past, it is not future. It is just the way it was. Trust was what David did. He trusted God’s love.
Of the different Old Testament words for love, the writer used the one that has loyalty as its root. “Steadfast love” is also translated lovingkindness, kindness, goodness, mercy, faithful love, faithfulness, and loyalty, and is often called (theologically, if not philologically), “covenant love”. The idea is not simplistic but is a combination of these different concepts. At base, it has the sense of loyalty and doing good to someone because of this loyalty. (Rahab’s use of the term “kindly” in Joshua 2:12 indicates, I believe, that one does not have to be in a covenant already in order to receive this kind of love or faithfulness, but a covenant may follow.) God would display his loyalty and kindness to the psalmist — of that he was confident.
Because God would exhibit His love to him, David was sure he would rejoice in God’s deliverance. He had earlier said his enemy was rejoicing over his troubles. But in the end, David would be the one rejoicing. The aspect of the verb “rejoice” indicates either that this was ongoing or future. He would rejoice now and continue to rejoice, or he was confident he would in the future. Since he was currently crying out in distress, it seems this was his confidence for the future.
The writer concluded his song with the resolve to praise the Lord in verse 6: “I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” The line looks like it is parallel to the previous one, so is merely repeating that line. However, the form of the verb speaks of resolution. In context, singing praise seems future rather than present. But he is sure that the Lord will do good to him and resolves in his mind that singing for joy will be the ultimate result.
David was sure that the Lord would do good to him and resolved in his mind that singing for joy would be the ultimate result
The reason he will sing praise is not just that he is confident in God’s rescue, but the Lord will “deal bountifully” with him. The aspect of the verb is again the simple statement of a fact: this will happen, depend on it. The verb to “deal bountifully” can mean to repay someone for what he or she did (cf. Psalm 18:20). If that is the case here, the idea is similar to the one in Hebrews 6:10; God rewards people for the good they have done. When Hezekiah prayed God would spare his life, he presented his work for the Lord as a motivation for God to grant him life (2 Kings 20:3; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10).
In Psalm 11, David could be thinking of his commitment to obeying God and believing God would reward him. But the only thing mentioned positively in the psalm about David is his trust in the Lord. God rewards faith (cf. Genesis 15:6; Psalm 2:12; 28:7; 32:10; 84:12; 86:2; Eph 2:8-9), so perhaps this is what is meant (cf. 1 Peter 1:7). Even if this is not the idea, the verb means to be generous with a person (Psalm 116:7; 119:17; 142:7).
To someone who does not have a relationship with God, the psalmist’s confidence in the Lord seems foolish. To David, who had been through many troubles and distresses, his trust was anything but futile (cf. 1 Samuel 17:37; 30:6). In a fallen world we are often trapped in prolonged suffering. But God says in Romans 8:18, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us”. So, until then we trust in God’s loyal love and expect to praise Him in the future.
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