March 10, 2014

Tom Lowe


Psalm 13


Title: How Long? How Long? How Long?

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.


Psalm 13 (NKJV)


1 How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?

2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

3 Consider and hear me, O Lord my God; Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death;

4 Lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed against him"; Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.

5 But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

6 I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.


David wrote this psalm when he was depressed and exhausted, perhaps while he was being pursued. He may have been hiding at this time in the cave of Adullam, while the Philistines were in the process of hunting him down. Day after day he found himself in a desperate situation. His troubles with King Saul had gone on year after year and he was dispirited and discouraged. He had already been driven to desperate human measures to escape his relentless foe. This psalm was wrung out of the extremity of his soul. He simply could not go on, not for another day, not for another hour, not for another minute. But man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. When we are at our wit’s end, without resources, at a loss for a way, perplexed and desperate—that is usually when we see God begin to work.  


Four times the words formed on David’s lips—“How long?” Pursued relentlessly by Saul, David wondered what was delaying the chariot of God. Would help never come to free him from the four terrible burdens that were crushing him?

  • He felt as if God had forgotten him.
  • He felt he was cut-off from the Lord’s favor.
  • He experienced deep depression in his soul daily.
  • He suffered the constant humiliation of being on the wrong side.


The initial mood of the psalm is one of tedious frustration and strained patience; but the very act of appealing to God stimulates the psalmist’s hope so that the final mood is one of joyous appreciation of God’s work and purpose in his life. Prayer is not only the proper reaction of the godly to trouble, it is also the medicine against depression in the face of it. By the grace of God, David turned his sufferings into songs and left those songs behind to encourage us in our trials (2 Cor. 1:2-11).



1 How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?

God had promised David the throne of Israel, yet that day of coronation seemed further and further away. Saul was doing evil things and God wasn’t judging him, and yet David was doing good things and felt abandoned by the Lord. David was certainly disturbed by what the enemy was doing, but he was more concerned by what the Lord was not doing. How long? How long? How long? How long? It is David’s rhetorical way to say, “Here, lord! I’m talking to you. I’m trying to get through to you!” It is a question that even the saints in heaven ask—“They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" (Rev. 3:10). It seemed to David that God had forgotten him: “How long will you forget me, O Lord? Forever?” David felt the Lord in heaven had forgotten him. Worse than that, he thought that the Lord had forsaken him: “How long will You hide Your face from me?” For the Christian, the worst thing that can happen is for them to be out of touch with God, for that brings the personality to the point of breakdown and leaves us at the mercy of foes, human and spiritual.

The phrase “Hide your face” suggests the withdrawing of God’s presence and help and normally implied discipline because of sin—“Then they will cry to the Lord, But He will not hear them; He will even hide His face from them at that time, Because they have been evil in their deeds (Mic. 3:4). The psalmist’s enemies may have drawn that conclusion, but he shows no consciousness of sin (cf. 6:1-3). One thing we have to learn is that God is never in a hurry. The kind of work He wishes to accomplish in our souls can be accomplished only if sufficient time is given to allow His plans to ripen and mature. Our seeming abandonment by God, does not mean that we have been forsaken or forgotten. God knows what He is doing. The intensity of our trial is controlled from on high. He has something to teach us. He has an end product in mind. Things are moving forward but so slowly, from our impatient viewpoint, that we cannot see it. But He can.

2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

At this point in his spiritual pilgrimage, David was no longer master of his emotions, his feelings had brought him low. In view of God’s apparent absence, the psalmist seems left to his own personal resources which are unable to deal with the reality of his enemies. He had been brought low by his foes: “How long will my enemy be exalted over me?” It seemed as though Saul was bound to win. He had the means and he had the power. The resources of the nation were being harnessed, not to fight the Philistines, but to hound and hunt David. The heat was on. The fourfold repetition of the phrase “how long” clearly shows the writers intense suffering. He is wearied by his enemy but even more distressed by God’s seeming unconcern. He feels God-forsaken in the time of his greatest need.

“How long shall I take counsel in my soul” has been translatedHow long must I wrestle with my thoughts,” in the NIV, which suggests turmoil in the mind. Feeling like he was left to himself, David tried to devise various ways to overcome the enemy (wrestle with my thoughts), but nothing seemed to satisfy him. Depression can be suffocating, worse than mere physical pain. Martin Luther wrote: “Hope itself despairs, and despair nevertheless hopes. Experiencing depression can cause a real conflict between the spirit and the flesh. But faith is living without scheming; it means not leaning on our own experiences and skills and trying to plot our own schedule—“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6). It’s a dangerous thing to give-in to our feelings, because feelings are deceptive and undependable (Jer. 17:9). Those anxious cares with which believers tend to load themselves with can be heavy burdens to carry, and can become more than they think they can bear. And the bread of sorrows is sometimes the believer’s daily bread; our Master Himself was a man of sorrows. It is a common temptation, when trouble lasts a long time, to think that it will last forever; and those who are without joy for a long time, begin to be without hope. We should never allow ourselves to complain, unless our complaint drives us to our knees. Nothing can kill our spirit more readily than being without God’s favor, but nothing is more reviving than the return of it. “Enemy” does not necessarily mean an individual; here it is probably a large number like Saul and the military force he commands. Saul’s persecutions probably lasted for eight or nine years; and no let up or hope of termination appeared—“But David thought to himself, "One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand." (1 Sam. 27:1).

Now, he turns in prayer to God. This is his resource and his recourse.

3 Consider and hear me, O Lord my God; Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death;

In the first two verses, David had been crying out, almost incoherently and certainly emotionally. He was in grave danger when he wrote this. He was afraid to go to sleep for fear that his enemy would kill him. Yet he needed rest badly. So he asked the Lord to protect him and to give him sleep. Now he turned to deliberate, rational, thoughtful prayer.

“Consider and hear me, O Lord my God; Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death.” He was so worn out with his long drawn out emotional drain that he was afraid it would bring him to an early grave. The phrase “Enlighten my eyes” indicates his eyes were dim with weakness, denoting death—“My eye wastes away because of grief; It grows old because of all my enemies” (Ps. 6:7). The eyes are said to be the barometer of the body. “Consider . . . me” is like saying “look” or “take note.”

It is good to have peace within you, but you also need protection around you, that is why David prayed to the Lord and made three requests of Him (all in this verse):

  1. Consider me. A plea for the Lord to fix His eyes on him and scrutinize him.
  2. Hear me. A request to answer his prayer and send some kind of encouragement.
  3. Enlighten my eyes. This involved not only spiritual enlightenment (v. 19:8), but also physical and emotional vitality and strength (Ezra 9:8; 1 Sam. 14:24-30). When the mind and body are weary, how easy it is become discouraged.

But when he nailed his emotions to a glorious truth: he called upon God as Jehovah my Elohim!” Jehovah—the God of promise; Elohim—the God of power. For Saul could never win! Had not Samuel the prophet taken the holy anointing oil and anointed David as Israel’s next king? David was going to reign no matter what Saul could do!

4 Lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed against him"; Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.

The trial that David was going through at this time required he give up some things, such as his personal comfort, a permanent home, a peaceful life, and many associations with friends and family. What a lesson there is in that for us today. We can afford to give up a few things in life if we are going for a crown. We don’t have to have everything we want. We can give up a few liberties, such as watching hours of TV at night, or going to places of worldly amusement, especially when we tell the Lord we don’t have time to ponder and pray. We don’t have to have two jobs. We expect our missionaries to live by faith. Why should they have to when we don’t? We can give up a few loyalties. The devil is very clever. He will get us all wrapped up in something, good activities, good commitments and see to it that these things take up our time, time that belongs first and foremost to Christ, secondly to our family, or to the church.

The enemy would rejoice if he could get to David. The rejoicing of the enemy would not only be against David but also against God, so he prays that the enemy will not get the upper hand. After having heaved his awful sigh of sorrow, he continues in prayer, and he finally settles back in wonderful faith and trust in God.  THIS IS A BEAUTIFUL PSALM.

God must take note of David’s plight and send help quickly in order to avert two disasters. The first would be David’s death and the second would be the jubilant boasting of his enemy.

“Rejoice” is literally, “shout as in triumph.” “I am moved” means “I have been cast down from a firm position.” If David was to waver, the faithful people of the land would think that God was unable to fulfill His own promises.

5 But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

Although no spoken answer to David’s prayer is recorded, a real relief comes over this troubled soul. His trust is based on God’s loving kindness, his rejoicing upon God’s salvation, his singing upon God’s bountiful care. He has found true peace by total trust in God.

David had moved to the final stage of the soul’s experience in a time of trial and testing. He had come through tears to truth and through truth to triumph. Some people have wondered how David could swing so swiftly from gloom to gladness. The secret is found in the middle section of the psalm where he gets his eyes firmly fixed on the Lord his God, Jehovah, and his Elohim.

After all he had been through, he could still say, “My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.” Is this salvation from sin? Probably that is included. Is this salvation from self? Probably that is included too. Is this salvation from Satan? Surely that is included. But probably this salvation is also salvation from Saul. David is standing now on the victory side. So can we, because our salvation includes victory from situations—in the Lord’s good time and way. God’s mercy (steadfast love) was all that David needed for it would never fail—“In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (Isa. 63:9). God’s people don’t live on explanations, they live on promises, and those promises are as unchanging as the character of God.

6 I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

Have David’s actual immediate circumstances changed? No. Has Saul called off his bloodhounds and bullies? No. Is Saul dead? No. Has David received a new shipment of arms? No. Nothing has changed. But David can sing because God hasn’t changed. His despondency is changed to confidence as his faith lays hold of four characteristics of the Lord: His steadfast love, His delivering intervention, His readiness to give that which truly delights men, and His abounding goodness to the very man who had been restless. This impressible hope, always clarified and crystalized by prayer, is one of the constant features of the psalter (cf. also 1 Cor. 15:19; Heb. 6:18-19).

Notice that David put everything in the past tense: “He has dealt bountifully with me.” The change in his situation is so sure David reckons it as already having happened. No wonder he could sing!

The word “bountifully” focuses on the goodness of God and His generosity in dealing with His people in grace—“Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things . . .” (Ps. 103:2-5).