Psalm 13 — Relief from Despair

Have you ever felt like the whole world is against you? Have you ever had those days when everyone you come in contact with seems to be against you? Have you ever felt that God has abandoned you? If you have, and I think we all have had these feelings at one time or another, then this Psalm is for you. It is attributed to David – the King of Israel who had his share of people who would just as soon see him in the grave as not. In fact, I recently read that he was at the same time the most loved and the most hated king by the people of his time.

Read this and see how David got out of his funk of despair.

Psalm 13:1-6

1. How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?

The phrase “How Long?” is used some eighteen times in the psalms. In this psalm, alone, it is used four times! It shows that the psalmist has endured about as much persecution and hardship as he can take. He feels that God is far away and has forgotten him. He is heartbroken because he can see no indication that God will ever come to their rescue. He asks if the duration of God’s apparent absence will last forever.

This feeling is emphasized in the second part of this verse: he is asking God how long He will hide His face from him. For instance, favor and friendship is shown by looking a person and smiling. Disfavor is shown by turning away. Remember the benediction in Numbers 6:23-26:

24 The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:
25 The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
26 The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

In verse 25, the blessing is that the face of God would shine upon the people; that is to say that God would not only give them His good will, but that He would be active in regard to them, even to the extent of giving them special regard. Then, in verse 26, that thought is continued in the phrase “lift up His countenance … .” It is a special direction of God’s thought and care towards His people. It is blessing one with God’s abundant and overflowing love and peace.

It’s important to remember that this blessing wasn’t formulated and invented by man — this is God instructing Moses who in turn was to instruct Aaron and his sons about how to bless the children of Israel (Numbers 6:23).

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?

A phrase that illustrates man’s own attempt to solve the problem of having sorrow “in my heart daily.” We see, and the psalmist understands, his solutions aren’t working precisely because he continues to have the sorrow. Because he is feeling forsaken, he needs to have a solution and he goes to his soul to seek the answers. He is asking God how long he is going to have to continue searching for the answers within himself since he seems not to be getting any advice and deliverance from God.

Now, one final time he asks “how long?” This time in regards to his enemy that seems to have all the good things happening to him – things the psalmist can’t seem to reconcile in his heart – and so the enemy seems to be exalted, or given favor, over the psalmist.

In my mind, this is the main source of trouble for the psalmist. It is what is causing him the most grief. If his enemy wasn’t in the scene, I think he wouldn’t seem to be so persecuted. But when one’s life revolves around basic survival – taking care of shelter, clothing and food – under the pressure of needing to deal with an enemy, the sense of abandonment and persecution will weigh heavily on the heart of the pursued.

3. Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;

Now the psalmist is asking directly that God pay attention to his plight. The meaning of the Hebrew word for consider is, literally, to scan or look “intently at” with favor or care or pleasure. He is saying, look at me, pay attention to what is happening to me.

When we are tired our state of mind and health are reflected in our eyes. They lose their normal luster and shine and become dull. It’s like they lose the light of life. The eyes of the psalmist have become dimmed by the stress of sorrow in his heart. In fact, he is so weighed down that he feels as if he is on the brink of death.

He is asking God to put new light in his eyes – to renew the life that is within him and keep him from sleeping the sleep of death.

4. Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.

So the psalmist asks the Lord to look upon him and pay attention to what he has to say because he has lost his zest for life (his eyes have lost their light) because of the sorrow (feeling that God has rejected him) and the constant struggle to survive and stand against his foes (taking counsel in himself). He feels death is approaching and he asks God to lighten his eyes – to give him renewed life and hope.

If God does not help, his enemy will be emboldened and will boast that he was a match for him and even that he is superior to him. (verse 4) In addition to the enemy, there are those who may be somewhat less aggressive in their actions against the psalmist. These people are adversaries – those who don’t necessarily plot against him, but they certainly have no qualms about watching the psalmist fail. In this verse they rejoice when he wavers in his conviction and his steadfastness in faith and is overcome by sin. They take delight in the fall of a righteous follower of God.

Who is the Enemy?

It might be to our advantage to look at “the enemy” in light of David’s state of despair. In verse one and the first part of verse two, David talks about his sense that God has forgotten him and abandoned him – that He’s not paying attention to what David is doing and how he is feeling. In the second half of verse two, he mentions the enemy and the exultation of that enemy over him. Later in the psalm he talks about his adversaries.

I think the enemies are real, but I think they could also be imagined – at least some of them.

When we get overly tired and especially if we are stressed out about a circumstance in our life, it can seem that everyone is against us. Every remark or look seems to indicate to us that this or that person doesn’t care about us. And in a way, that is what I see in this psalm. It is a paranoia that sets in and colors our sight, making us think that people around us are out to get us or at least are not our friend have no interest in our well-being what-so-ever.

Let’s see how David climbs out of the hole into which he has fallen.

The Turnaround

5. But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.

With verse 5, as in so many, if not all, of the Psalms, we find the beginning of the affirmation of his trust in God at the end of the psalm. This is the beginning of a turn-around in the psalmist’s attitude and inner strength.

To summarize the psalm to this point: the first four verses illustrate the problems the psalmist is having and he is praying to God, telling Him about his troubles and the fact that he feels God is neglecting him and not paying attention to his problems and really, not caring.

But as he is praying this to God, it is as if his eyes are being opened (didn’t he ask for this in verse 3?) and he suddenly states, as if given a revelation: I have trusted in the Lord. He now has confidence in himself and in the outcome of his predicament. He can now say with assurance that he will rejoice in the salvation the Lord is sure to extend to the righteous.

6. I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.

The turnaround continues in verse 6 and his joy is increasing all the time. He is even singing to the Lord because He has been more than fair to the psalmist. God has dealt “bountifully” – he has filled his cup to over-flowing even as it is shaken to settle the contents to allow more to be added and does so, even letting it mound up and flow down the outside of the cup.

The psalm ends with David seeing a new outlook on life and the situation which led to the reason for the psalm. Praise, thankfulness and triumph are expressed for the comfort God has given him. He is strong, now and able to face the world.

So when we are feeling downtrodden, like we have too much to do, like we have nowhere to turn for help, like we are at the end of our rope and people are against us – we need only remember to pray, tell our problems to God, ask for His help, and then review all the things God has done for us, like giving us every breath we breathe. We need to rejoice in the covering hand of God, giving praise and thanksgiving to Him.

May the LORD bless you, and keep you:
May the LORD make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you:
May the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.


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