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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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PSALM 13

YEARNING FOR HELP FROM GOD (FOR THE CHIEF MUSICIAN, A PSALM OF DAVID).

The social situation reflected in this psalm is apparently the same as it was in Ps. 12. In fact, Delitzsch suggested that fact as the reason why the two psalms appear side by side in the Psalter.F1 The title we have selected is taken from Leupold.F2

What we have here is five lines of lament (Psalms 13:1-2), four lines of prayer (Psalms 13:3-5a), and three lines of rejoicing (Psalms 13:5b-6).

THE FIVE LINES OF LAMENT

How long, O Jehovah? wilt thou forget me forever?
How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?"

Four times the cry, "How long?" rises from the plaintive lines, the evident distress of the psalmist deriving from his impression that God has forsaken him, hiding his face from him, and that somehow God's favor at the moment does not rest upon him. This consciousness of separation from God has indeed brought an agony of near-despair to the psalmist.

The reasons for the psalmist's distress are not far to seek. (1) God is the source of all happiness; (2) he is the source of all wisdom; (3) he is the source of all strength; and (4) he is the source of life itself.F3 Because the psalmist feels separated from God, he has (1) sorrow, (2) feels the need of counsel (Psalms 13:2), (3) is weak before his enemy (Psalms 13:2), and (4) has a fear of death itself (Psalms 13:3).

It is strange indeed that children of God are not exempt from such feelings of abandonment and despair, and we are left in wondering as to why it should be so. Perhaps the Lord wishes to drive us to our knees repeatedly that we should ever rely upon Him and not upon ourselves.

One of the most discerning lines we have seen in connection this psalm is the following:

"Prayer is not only the proper reaction of the godly to trouble, it is also the effective medicine against depression in the face of it."F4

In the same vein of thought are these words accredited to Martin Luther:

"Hope itself despairs, and despair yet hopes, and only that unspeakable groaning is audible with which the Holy Spirit, who moves over the waters covered with darkness, intercedes for us.F5

THE FOUR LINES OF PRAYER

Consider and answer me, O Jehovah, my God:
Lighten mine eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Lest mine enemy say; I have prevailed against him;
Lest mine adversaries rejoice when I am removed."

These lines tell how the distressed psalmist turned to God in prayer, the last resource and the first, of every child of God. "Take it to the Lord in prayer." Right there is the answer, the ultimate answer, the only answer to all the problems associated with our earthly pilgrimage.

This prayer promptly phased into exclamations of rejoicing as the supplicant, conscious of the fact that indeed the Lord had heard his cry, was once more aware of the loving presence of God in his life.

It should be noted that in Ps. 13:4, the psalmist's prayer for the avoidance of death is based upon the premise that, "If he dies, his enemies will interpret his death in such a way as to mock his trust in God."F6

"The doctrine is taught here (in Ps. 13:4) that God's honor is bound up with the deliverance of his people."F7 It was this very fact to which the great Jewish leader Moses appealed when God, at one time, expressed a purpose of destroying Israel, and of developing through Moses a new Chosen People. Moses pleaded with God not to do such a thing, saying:

"If thou kill this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying, Because Jehovah was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness" (Numbers 14:15-16).

THE THREE LINES OF REJOICING

But I have trusted in thy lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.
I will sing unto Jehovah, because he hath dealt bountifully with me."

Here, "The storm has rolled away."F8 What ever thoughts of fear, doubt and depression had lain him low, he is now back in the land of faith and confidence in the Lord. What a joyful change! Such is always the result of prayer; and in that light, one cannot help wondering why the children of the loving Father are sometimes negligent of the precious privilege of prayer.


Footnotes for Psalms 13
1: F. Delitzsch, The Old Testament, Vol. 5 (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 199.
2: H. C. Leupold, The Psalms (Baker Book House, 1959), p. 134.
3: W. L. Watkinson, On the Psalms, Vol. 1 (New York: Funk and Wagnalls), p. 50.
4: Leslie S. McCaw, The New Bible Commentary, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 458.
5: Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, Vol. I (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1892), p. 118.
6: Arnold B. Rhodes, The Layman's Bible Commentary, Vol. 9 (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1960), p. 41.
7: W. L. Watkinson, op. cit., p. 51.
8: Alexander Maclaren, op. cit., p. 121.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalm 13". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ps&chapter=013>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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