This talk was given by Martin Ansdell-Smith on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church and on the Internet. The talk is long.
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Psalms 13, as we’ve heard this morning has three stanzas. Desolation, supplication, and certainty, or if you like alteration pain, prayer and praise. The Psalm is a model for prayer. It reminds us, we are mortals. We can speak of our God, never own him. Agony and adoration can be side by side. [Mays, qv] As Paul says, we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake. His life may also be revealed in our mortal bodies. The first two verses, how long will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with thoughts? Day after the day, have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
How long? Repeated four times. He’s not asking for an exact duration. The Psalmist has already had enough. He wants it to end now. Problems that persist have different effects than shorter trials. Listen to this comment for Andrew Fuller, quoted by C.H. Spurgeon.
“The intenseness of the affliction renders it trying to our fortitude, but it is by the continuance of it patience is put to test. It is not under the sharpest, but the longest trials that we are most in danger of fainting. In the first case, the soul collects all its strength and feels in earnest to call in help from above; but in the last, the mind relaxes and sinks into despondency. When Job was accosted with evil tidings in quick succession, he bore it with becoming fortitude, but when he could see no end to his troubles, he sunk under them.”
How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever? This is how it could seem. In Psalms 12, David responded to having been abandoned by others. In Psalms 13, he responds to feeling abandoned by God. You know the right answer. God never forgets or abandons his children. It does not stop us feeling he has. Truth is, we can cast all our anxiety on him because he cares for us. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted. Yet the psalms are honest. Sometimes brutally honest. David does not hide his feelings. He feels abandoned by God and says so. We can learn from David and we’re then moved towards certainty, assurance, and trust.
As Isaiah writes and a mother forget baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has born? Though she may forget. I will not forget. See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Later in Isaiah, Isaiah records God’s words about his people. Though the mountains be shaken, the Hills removed yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken, nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord who has compassion.
Now, although Isaiah is writing later than David, David already knew this. In Psalm 46 he writes, God is our refuge and strength and ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth give way, the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar, and foam, and the mountains quake with their surging. Here in Psalms 13, his continuing distress. David feels as if God has forgotten, worse than that, forgotten forever. It’s all too easy in stress and anguish to give more weight to appearance than reality, be so enmeshed in reality that we forget, don’t bring to mind, the true reality and his promises to us.
As his children, he can never forget us, even for a moment. We are all safe in his hand, whatever the circumstances. Indeed he who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. As Paul writes, therefore my dear friends, as you have always obeyed, not only my presence but now much more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose. If the first how long is about how things appear to be, the second is the sense that God has turned his face from us.
In the Old Testament, God’s remembering and seeing aren’t states of consciousness, they’re preludes to action. [Kidner] David might think that God has turned his face away because he’s not receiving God’s blessings in his life, the abundance that he once did. Although God is not acting to resolve the problem, we cannot be at ease while God’s face is turned away from us. Job went through that and we all go through times when our prayers aren’t answered and we wonder if they’re heard.
Well, for the latter, the Bible is very practical about prayer and the way we need to approach it. That’s the subject for a whole series of sermons. I ’m not going to go into detail in that today. The next, how long is difficult to translate to English and each translation puts a different slant on it. When looking closer at a passage, it’s always helpful to see how different translators have rendered it, but what matters most is to expose ourselves to the truth of God’s words in the Bible, by reading or hearing, and then using it to shape us.
Looking at verse two, the NIV that Sue read for us, how long must I wrestle with my thoughts? The NRSV, how long must I bear pain in my soul? ESV, how long must I take counsel in my soul? I quite like an old translation by Knox. Each day brings a fresh load of care. This really just sums up, doesn’t it? The dark thoughts and emotional turmoil we go through. Then, how long must my enemy triumph? The four ’how longs’ are completed. [inaudible 00:07:05] as things seem to be, as they are, the internal effects on us, and in relation to a perceived enemy.
Verses three and four, the second stanza, the Psalmist turns to prayer. I suppose feeling abandoned by God, at least in implies we know God is there. As Christians, we know from scripture that God loves us and is faithful. The more familiar we are with God’s word to us in the Bible, the better equipped we are to cope with life. We too should pray as David did. The God of all is willing to hear us, it’s beyond amazing. Prayer does not exclude help from others or excuse us from practical action.
You must however, pray urgently and consistently. Verses three and four: look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him.” My foes will rejoice when I fall. The Psalmist addresses the Lord, maker of heaven and earth. The of one makes and sustains all. Nor absent or impersonal deity. The Psalmist claims him as ’My God’. Light up my eye. Show me the truth. Make me understand. Perhaps even cheer me up. David is concerned that what he’s going through would end of his life. He rightly confesses this fear to God. God already knows. So do be honest with him in prayer.
God does not owe David anything. He can never owe us anything. We can rely on his grace. In the third line, David prays for aid from God so his enemy cannot claim to overcome him. We don’t know what circumstances were that led David to write the Psalm or who the enemy is to whom reference is made. That’s quite a good thing. We can read this Psalm in terms that we understand. We can interpret it by our situation. We can make this Psalm appropriate to use it as a model for our prayers.
We might identify our enemy, our foe is a situation: unemployment, poverty, or economic turmoil, catastrophic weather, earthquake, illness, death, or we might identify people as enemies. Those who plot and work against others’ interests. For people we are called to love our enemies, to forgive them, help, show kindness and not rejoice in their misfortunes. The Bible’s also clear there are unseen forces at work. Peter wrote, be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Paul wrote, the last enemy to be destroyed is death. In Ephesians, he writes finally be strong and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” and, comprehensively in Romans 8:35-39: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The promise is not that we have an easy life, or that all our enemies will be defeated on the timescales we want, but that God will support us. All the disasters that Paul listed may come our way but we are sure that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.
The promise is not that we have an easy life, or that all our enemies will be defeated on the timescales we want, but that God will support us. All the disasters that Paul listed may come our way but we are sure that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.
The final stanza: but I trusted in your steadfast love, my heart shall rejoice in your salvation I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me. However great the pressure, the choice of response is still David’s. David remembers God is his salvation.
God has dealt bountifully with him and God deserves praise. More than that, David’s heart rejoices he does not praise out of duty just because he should, he praises from the heart. He sings to the Lord because his heart is overflowing with joy, because of what God has done for him and in assurance of what God will do for him; even though it be inexplicable and painful. Reminds me of the end of Habakkuk.
Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,though there are no sheep in the sheepfold and no cattle in the stalls,yet I will rejoice in the Lord ,I will be joyful in God my Saviour.The Sovereign Lord is my strength;he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,he enables me to tread on the heights.and of Paul’s words
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
This isn’t stoicism that’s not the Christian way.
We are to be without bitterness, rancour, complaining, and grumbling but we do grieve, weep, mourn, and rejoice, even dance and sing, and as much in tune with others as for ourselves. Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn. And we are called to seek changes that promote God’s kingdom and his glory. Just one example, Paul exhorts us to appeal to God on behalf of our fellow Christians: praying at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
Sometimes community spiritual formation can just boil down to helping people suffer well. [See article on ‘The Role of Suffering’ in Wilhoit] Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything but in every situation, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
God is always good. We can trust God. God will deliver his people.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
References and sources
› Boice, J. M. (2005). Psalms 1–41: An Expositional Commentary. Baker Books.
› deClaissé-Walford, N., Jacobson, R. A., i& Tanner, B. L. (2014). The Book of Psalms (E. J. Young, R. K. Harrison, & R. L. Hubbard Jr., Eds.). William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
› Goldingay, J. (2006). Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Psalms 1–41 (T. Longman III, Ed.; Vol. 1). Baker Academic.
› Goldingay, J. (2013). Psalms for Everyone, Part 1: Psalms 1–72. Westminster John Knox Press; Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
› Kidner, D. (1973). Psalms 1–72: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 15, p. 94). InterVarsity Press.
› Leupold, H. C. (1959). Exposition of the Psalms. Baker Book House.
› Lint, G. A., ed. (2009). Psalms: Various Versions Text. World Library Press.
› Mays, J. L. (1994). Psalms. John Knox Press.
› Perowne, J. J. S. (1883). The Book of Psalms; A New Translation, with Introductions and Notes, Explanatory and Critical (Fifth Edition, Revised, Vol. 1). George Bell and Sons; Deighton Bell and Co.
› Spurgeon, C. H. (n.d.). The Treasury of David: Psalms 1-26 (Vol. 1). Marshall Brothers.
› Wilhoit, J. C. (2022). Spiritual Formation as If the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community (Second Edition, p. 270). Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.
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