George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

Psalm 13

1. Structure

How long? The question of anxiety
The cry of prayer
The song of faith

Psalm 12 ended with reference to the “vilest of the sons of Adam”, i.e. Cain, who slew his brother. Psalm 13 begins with evident allusion to the same incident: “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (Gen. 4:8,10; cp. “souls under the altar” in Rev. 6:9,10).

2. Historical setting

With so little specific detail in the wording of the psalm, it is difficult to pinpoint the time in David’s life which brought this psalm to birth. Probably it was Saul’s sustained hatred and persecution, which nearly broke his spirit, as the four-fold “How long?” emphasized. Consider the desperation written into such chapters as 1 Samuel 21, 23, and 27: “I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.”

Alternatively, there is the suggestion of serious illness in verse 3, which may be related to Psalms 32, 38, 39, 41, and 51.

Wilt thou hide thy face from me? David’s sorest trial was the occasional feeling that God had turned His back on him. His constant and intense longing was to behold God’s face: Psa. 11:7; 17:15; 27:4,8; 34:5.
How long shall I take counsel? “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts?” (NIV). What schemes can save me? None! Only God: 14:6.

How long shall mine enemy be exalted (“lord it”: NEB) over me? Samuel’s anointing of David carried with it an implicit divine promise that one day the exaltation would be his, and not Saul’s.
Lighten mine eyes seems to mean: ‘Save me from this present physical exhaustion’; this was the experience of Jonathan on eating the honey: 1 Sam. 14:27,29. On a spiritual level, God’s “light” is sweeter than honey (Psa. 19:8,10).

Lest I sleep the sleep of death. Is this intended as a deliberate contrast with Saul’s experience when he slept the sleep of “safety” with a spear poised over his heart (1 Sam. 26:8)?
Mine enemy. How very many psalms speak of conflict with an enemy! But in none of them is the enemy the “orthodox” Devil, but always a man, or men — or self!

I have prevailed against him. “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now” (Matt. 27:43).
Thy mercy. Always this precious Old Testament word hesed refers to God’s covenants of promise. Through all this harassment David knew that the throne was to be his. The way through all these horrific situations is by trust (faith) in God’s “mercy”.

3. Messianic reference

How long? This plaintive repetition tells of Christ’s human spirit sorely tried: “How am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). Yet even when at the lowest ebb, these words of faith imply confidence that there will be an end to the evil time.

Wilt thou hide thy face from me? In spite of Psa. 22:1, it is not possible to believe that the Father ever truly hid His face from His Son. But there were times when human weakness was tempted to believe that He did: 11:7.
Sorrow in my head....mine enemy exalted. Even though the gospels tell but little of this side of the psychology of Jesus, there must have been times when these words were poignantly true.
Lest I sleep the sleep of death. A sense of possible failure of his life’s work and of his death; cp. the Messianic Isaiah 49.
Those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved. The vaunting spirit of evil did rejoice against Christ, but only for a short while. It did not endure even as far as the third day.
I have trusted in thy mercy. Gethsemane illustrates how, many a time, a despondent spirit in Jesus gave way at last before the positive steadfastness of his faith. (“Mercy” does not necessarily imply forgiveness of sins; rather, it could be translated “lovingkindness”.) As stated above, it is connected with God’s covenants of promise, having to do with eternal life, and confirmed by the blood of Christ the “covenant-victim” (Heb. 9:13-17).
Because he hath dealt bountifully. This verse may be read either as a later addition, when faith had won through, or as a typical Hebraism — expressing, even in the midst of depression, that the reinforcements of heaven are at hand and all-sufficient.

4. Other details

How long? A question repeated in Psa. 74:10; 79:5; 89:46. Notice similar questions in Hab. 1:2; Dan. 12:6; 8:13. The general answer to such questions is in Isa. 54:17:

For a small moment have I forsaken thee [cp. 2 Cor. 4:17: ‘our light affliction, which is but for a moment’], but with great mercies will I gather thee.”

Wilt thou hide thy face from me? Job, in the midst of intense sufferings, asked the same question (Job 13:24). Compare also Psa. 10:1.
The “sleep” of death: Job 7:21; Psa. 6:5; 146:3,4; John 11:11; 1 Cor. 15:18; 1 Thes. 4:13-16.

But I. Emphatic in the Hebrew: but as for me! A definite contrast with others.
My heart shall rejoice. Phil. 4:4.
Dealt bountifully. The basic idea is completeness; the Lord has “granted all my desire” (NEB).
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