Psalm 13 Commentary: Introduction
How does it feel to lose? Do you like that feeling? Of losing a game or a match or a contest?
If you’re a husband – how does it feel to lose to your wife? Well, you’re probably more mature than I am and so you probably don’t struggle with the reality of crushing defeat delivered to you from the hands of your dear sweet wife. Lori and I used to play ping pong. USED TO, I say! She is an excellent ping pong player. And at least when we were dating I kind of got sick of playing her because she ALWAYS won! It was humiliating to this young man who wanted to impress his date – and she just keeps BEATING me! I’d like to say that I got over it.
And, that was intended to be sort of a humorous illustration of the feelings that we can tend to have when we’re loosing. But what about when you’re losing – not to a friend or someone you love and care for – but when you’re losing to an enemy. Someone who hates you. Someone who you know will actually rejoice when you fail – when he finally beats you.
I mentioned this a while ago, but there was a man at a company that I worked for, who for some reason wanted not only me, but also my whole department fired. Our department had come in and by management’s orders we got involved in part of his processes. And he didn’t like it one bit. He became our enemy. And for a while it looked like he might win. Every little mistake we made he blew up to make them look like fatal blunders. And eventually he had the attention of the management on this matter. He was set against us and he wasn’t budging in his opposition. It was us or him. And he seemed to be winning.
You might experience opposition at work or from your neighbors. Christianity in general has many enemies. And they’d all be happy to see the light put out.
How do you feel about these enemies – especially when they seem to be winning? Are you wondering if you have the right attitude about them and about your situation?
The Lord Jesus tells us to love our enemies. We ought to do good to them. We must pray for them. And yet, how do you deal with the emotions involved in appearing to lose to an enemy? How should you deal with your inner man regarding the troubling thoughts that come when your enemy is winning?
Psalm 13 Commentary: Summary
This is where Psalm 13 can be instructive and helpful for us.
In Psalm 13, David is wrestling with this very issue of his enemy winning. Look at the last line of Psalm 13:2. He says, “How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?” He begs God to help him so that – Psalm 13:4 – these things don’t happen to him – that his “enemy [might] say, I have prevailed against him” or this other concerning possibility that “those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.”
So, David here in Psalm 13 is giving us an inspired example of how to deal with the situation When Your Enemy is Winning.
Psalm 13 vs. Psalm 12
This psalm is different from and yet similar to Psalm 12. The message of that psalm all had to do with how to deal with a situation where the vilest men are exalted in a society. So, these two psalms are similar in the sense that both are lament psalms.
But their differences are more pronounced. Last time in Psalm 12, throughout that psalm we kept seeing a broad and national emphasis. The whole nation or culture or society of David was in view there in Psalm 12. But the tone is different here in Psalm 13. It gets more personal. We’re not talking about how bad men effect a whole society. No, in Psalm 13, we’re pondering the effects of evil men on an individual – David, to be exact.
So, before we get started explaining Psalm 13, I just wanted us to get that concept in our minds. Psalm 12 was something of a NATIONAL lament psalm. Whereas, Psalm 13 could be described as a PERSONAL lament psalm. So, let’s keep that fact in mind as we go through this psalm.
Psalm 13 Commentary: Invocation & Lament
Now, Psalm 13 starts with two verses that basically display for us David invoking the Lord and giving his lament. So, let’s re-read verses 1 and 2.
How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever?
how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?
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?
Notice the recurring phrase, “how long?” As in, “when will this be over?” or “when will you relieve me of my grief and agony?” When you’re having a great time, you never ask when it can be done. Right?
When my kids are playing in the basement, or riding their big wheels in our driveway, or pushing their trucks all throughout our house – they’re not typically asking me when they can be done with whatever it is that they’re doing. No, in fact, they get sad when the time is up.
It’s when they’re doing something unpleasant for them or something not so fun or something that for whatever other reason they DON’T want to do – that’s when they start keeping track of time and when they start asking me how long whatever the activity is needs to continue.
And here in Psalm 13, we see the king of Israel expressing similar thoughts. What’s happening to him is unpleasant. It’s hard. He wants to be done with it. And so he asks, “how long?” He addresses this to the Lord. It’s a desperate miserable plea for the Lord to intervene for him.
Can we take this as an example for us to follow? For New Testament believers, can we cry out to the Lord in a similar fashion? I think so. Are your situations troubling? Are they un-enjoyable? Are they causing you grief and pain and anguish? Then you have nothing to lose by calling out to the Lord and asking him – “how long?” It’s not a sin for you to express your deep grief about situations in your life that are frightening or grievous or unpleasant.
Well, let’s ask, why is David so miserable? What realities in his life does he want the Lord to put an end to? Let’s look again at the first line of verse 1.
David says “How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever?”
This word, “forget” can conjure up in our mind the situation with Joseph, the son of Jacob in the Old Testament. When he was put in jail simply for resisting the immoral advances of Potiphar’s wife. There he is in jail. And the Lord is with him, so he’s placed in a position of authority – even in the jail in which he’s a common lowly prisoner. Two of Pharaoh’s officials made Pharaoh angry and so he threw them into the same jail where Joseph was being kept. These two officials had similar dreams one night and so they came to Joseph, and Joseph interpreted them both. Joseph predicted that one of them would be restored to his position. And then Joseph told him, “When you’re restored, plead with Pharaoh to let me go. I’m here wrongfully. I’m innocent.” Well, the man went free and was restored to his former position. But he FORGOT – the same word as we have in verse 1 – he forgot Joseph. He abandoned him.
And that’s how David feels here – abandoned. Obviously, the Lord never forgets anything – in the sense that he knows everything. Everything – from eternity past to eternity future and everything in between. Nothing escapes his notice or somehow slips out of his memory – like it can with us. But the fact that David’s enemy is winning at his expense, makes David feel as if God has just abandoned him.
Surely, we can feel like this, can’t we? Like God has abandoned us. We have his promise to never leave not forsake us. And we need to cling to that promise by faith – because sometimes it’s the only thing we have. But even then, it can still FEEL like God has abandoned us. And this is what David is experiencing – this kind of emotion of being abandoned.
And it seems to David like this will go on indefinitely. Look at the first line again. David kind of weakly ventures a guess as to how long the Lord might act in such a way as to make David feel like he’s abandoned him. He rather pitifully answers his own question with another. He says “forever?” How long will you abandon me? Are you going to do it forever? Like a wound that just won’t heal and that is hurting more and more and becoming more and more of a concern – that’s how David feels about God’s apparent abandoning of him.
And that’s how it can feel when we’re experiencing situations where your enemy is winning at your expense. God seems silent. He seems like he’s abandoned you. How long will be do this? Forever?
And it’s not just that David feels like God has abandoned him. He states that he feels like God is hiding from him. Second line of verse 1. “How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?”
That concept of God hiding his face is not uncommon in the Old Testament.
Cain claimed that God would do this. After he murdered his brother Abel and then God banished him from the rest of his family, he told God that he was hiding his face from Cain. And you can understand how Cain would deserve this. The first murderer in the history of our race. Surely he deserves to have God hide his face from him. But David? No, not David. You wouldn’t think that God would hide his face from David.
This action of turning his face is something that God threatened his new nation of Israel with in Deuternomy 31 when they turn from him and engage in evil and – in particular – idolatry. They will sense that God is not among them when he does this to them. And we can understand how God might do this to a nation given over to idolatry. But to David? His loyal servant? One that hated idols? Would God hide his face from David?
And Job also felt like God was hiding his face from him. And by his doing this, Job sensed that God had become his enemy. But you know what? Job didn’t deserve this either. Job was righteous. And actually, this tells us that people can sense that God is hiding from them – abandoning them – avoiding them – when in reality, that’s not the case. God’s presence might seem to be ellusive. He might appear to be hiding from us. But the reality – as only God knows it – is that he doesn’t leave or forsake his own. He’s always present. Always near. Even if you don’t feel like that’s the case. It is.
And yet, what we see David doing here is wrestling through the physical reality of things. He’s on his way to being comforted by the Lord and expressing confidence in him. But he – just like we so often do – he needed to start where he was. He was being real with the Lord and expressing how he sensed things were.
Now, in verse 2 David asks how long he will need to take counsel in his own soul. It seems like David is expressing worry here. He’s fearing and worrying about something. He’s taking counsel in his own soul. He’s mulling things over and counseling himself in that manner constantly.
And if any of you in here have experienced interpersonal conflict with an enemy that seems to be winning at your expense, I mean, you can identify with the worrying. What is your enemy going to say? How will he try to use your own words against you? How is he going to try to manipulate the situation and even other men to gang up on you and make you look like a fool? These kinds of realities do tend to produce self-counsel and worry.
And we all understand that we need to be anxious for nothing. We know that worrying won’t get us anywhere. We know that we have to cast our cares upon the Lord. And yet, you need to get there. And it can be a journey marked with uncertainties and failures and struggle. You and I need to get to the place where we have confidence in the Lord. And yet, I’m sure you and I can all say from experience that it can take a little time or effort or whatever else to get there. And that’s what we see David experiencing here.
And it’s not just worry that’s affecting David. He also is experiencing sorrow in his heart daily. He’s sad during the day time or “by day”. It seems like for some at least sorrow and worry come stronger in the night than during the day. And so you know you’re in trouble when the sorrow and worry – that are so pronounced during the night when your heart and mind are focused on nothing else – when those emotions are an unavoidable force that you need to battle during the day time – when other things could easily preoccupy your mind and heart.
So, it’s bad for David. His emotions are a wreck. He’s struggling hard. And we’re finally told why in the second line of verse 2.
David asks in desperation – “how long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” Finally, we see what makes David feel so abandoned and worried and sorrowful. His enemy is somehow being exalted over him. And it seems like God doesn’t care.
Now, who might David be speaking of? Can we even guess at the identity of this enemy in David’s life? It could be Saul. It could be David’s son Absalom. It could be any number of foreign kings who might have attacked David throughout his decades of reigning over Israel. We just don’t know who this enemy is. But he’s a source of great concern for David.
Psalm 13 Commentary: Petition (2-3)
Well, we’ve heard David’s lament and invocation to the Lord in verses 1 and 2. And now in verses 3 and 4 we hear his petition. Let’s read that again.
3 Consider and hear me, O LORD my God:
lighten mine eyes, lest 1) I sleep the sleep of death;
4 Lest 2) mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him;
and 3) those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
David here gives a request and then reasons as to why the Lord should answer his request.
David starts by giving the Lord two imperatives. And these two words ARE imperatives. He says “consider” and “hear me”. Or you could say “look and answer me”. He wants God to – as it were – look at and be mindful of him. But he won’t settle for just a look. He wants God to answer his request.
And let me just say – I think it’s significant that God allows David to make what almost seems to be demands of him. Now, let me be clear. We as creatures have no right at all to demand that the Creator do our bidding. He’s not our Genie. He has no obligation to serve us. We should serve him. Even David follows up his bold requests with “O LORD my God.” David recognizes that he’s addressing the Lord, the God of all. So, he’s not pretending to be God himself. He’s recognizing his place of subservience to the Lord.
But with those considerations established, don’t overlook the fact that God allows his people to pray to him like this. Do you think something is God’s will? Then you can go even to the level of demanding that God do it and he’s not going to be offended. Come BOLDLY before his throne of grace, we’re told. Don’t be timid. You won’t threaten God with this kind of prayer.
And so David does humbly demand that God answer him. But has it occurred to you that David hasn’t asked for anything yet? I mean, besides that the Lord look at and answer him? So what is David wanting to have answered? Well, look at the second line of verse 3.
He finally asks God to brighten his eyes. When the Bible speaks of brightening the eyes, it can refer to a few things. First, it can refer to God giving literal physical sight. It can secondly refer to God’s word enlightening man’s moral faculties. And I’ll stop and mention that neither of those options is what David’s speaking of here. He’s not asking God to give him his eyesight back. And he’s probably not asking for God to enlighten him morally. And that’s where the third possibility comes in. In Ezra 9:8, Ezra speaks of God enlightening the eyes of those who returned to Israel from the captivity. Ezra speaks of it as giving the remnant “a little reviving”. A little encouragement. A little stirring and lifting of their souls.
Have you ever thought to ask the Lord to encourage you? How often we just sulk and stew in our misery and despair and anger. Why not ask God to “lighten your eyes”? To encourage you?
And this matter or encouragement – especially when your enemy is winning at your expense – it’s no small matter. And that’s why David gives three reasons to God why he should answer this request for encouragment.
First, David says that if God doesn’t encourage him in his misery, he will sleep the death. This is likely figurative – expressing that David feels as if he could die. And yet, depending on whom this enemy is that David’s referring to – David may also be in danger of literal physical death.
Second, if God doesn’t encourage David, his enemy will say “I have prevailed against him.” The enemy will boast of his superiority over David. The enemy will proudly proclaim that he has won against David.
Is that a problem? Shouldn’t David just get over it? What’s the big deal if David’s enemy defeats him? See, I don’t think this is a matter of David being proud and unable to deal with personal defeat. I think David is expressing – without explicitly stating it – that if David loses, God in a sense loses. David thought of the enemies of Israel as enemies not just of men, but of God as well. Remember Goliath? David didn’t see Goliath as speaking against the armies of Israel only. He perceived Goliath to be attacking God himself through attacking God’s people. And really, Israel was to be a nation of priests – representing the true God to all the nations. And so opposing God’s representatives – his ambassadors – is really tantamount to opposing God himself.
And a similar situation happens even in the New Testament. Haven’t you read this? The church of God is holy. If anyone destroys God’s church, God will destroy him. God takes it personally when the enemies of his people attack and try to destroy them. And so, David uses this as another reason why God must encourage him – so that his enemy doesn’t boast of defeating him and – by extension – the God he worships and represents.
And thirdly, David reasons that God must encourage him because if he doesn’t then those who trouble him will rejoice when he is moved. And this has a lot in common with the previous reason given by David. But now not only is a singular enemy in view, but now there is this groups of troublers. And they’re ready to rejoice. And rejoicing is a good thing – but not when it’s done for the wrong reason. And their reason for rejoicing would be David’s being moved. Or his tottering like an idol made of wood. They’d rejoice in him being shaken and disturbed and moved.
Psalm 13 Commentary: Confidence (5)
But in contrast we have David’s statement of confidence in verse 5.
5 But I have trusted in thy mercy;
my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.
In contrast to those who plan to rejoice when David is moved, David himself trusts in God’s mercy. This kind of trust in Isaish 12:2 is the kind that removes all fear. David is tempted to worry by this winning enemy of his. But he refuses. Why? Because he trusts in the Lord’s MERCY. You know that word. Chesed. It refers to loyalty, faithfulness, or obligation. God obliges himself to weak, frail, and trusting human beings. That’s why David can pray with such boldness. He’s comforted that God will be faithful and loyal to him – because that’s just God’s character!
And in contrast to the enemies who would rejoice at David’s tottering, David rejoices in something alright – but not in the destruction of others. No, he rejoices – second line of verse 5 – in God’s salvation. In God’s Yeshua.
And actually, the form of “rejoice” is Jussive – which means it’s a request of sorts. David’s giving another petition. “May my heart rejoice in your salvation, Lord!”
Psalm 13 Commentary: Promised Praise
And then David promises to praise God in the last verse of Psalm 13.
6 I will sing unto the LORD,
because he hath dealt bountifully with me.
When David says that he will sing, he’s not simply stating a fact. This is cohortative. It’s as if he’s marshaling all that’s in him and saying – “OK now, self. Let’s sing to the Lord! We’re going to do this!”
And the “because” can mean “when”. David will marshall all that he is to sing to the Lord with enthusiasm when God deals bountifully with him – or when he repays David, in a positive way. In the way that he’s asked for in this psalm – in particular when God encourages him.
To finish the story I left off with in the introduction to this message – the man who wanted me and my department to lose our jobs – the Lord actually allowed me to discover that he was lying to our clients about advertising numbers. I revealed it to my boss – it got run up the ladder to HR, and the guy resigned before being fired. And just like David in this psalm, I really needed God’s encouragement throughout that whole trying and distressing process. And he did provide it.
So, do you have an enemy who’s winning at your expense? Take this sermon on Psalm 13 with you and pray it to the Lord. Ask for his encouragement. Express your confidence in him. Give him reasons to answer you. And I believe he’ll do it. May the Lord help all of us to deal with any situation we might face When Your Enemy is Winning.
SO wonderfully written and encouraging! Thank you. Paul!! God bless!!