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Psalm 13: From Anguish to Joy

What comes to mind when you think of poetry? Maybe beauty, love, sappy sentiment, or if you are like me, the D that sabotaged your English grade. Regardless of our initial reaction, poetry plays a vital role in communication. The success of the music industry relies, in part, on our appreciation of poetry. Poetry can usher us into the theater of contagious joy or can conscript us to shoulder the burden of crushing grief. In Psalm 13, David poetically traverses the pathway of faith from the depths of his soul’s anguish to the heights of great joy and hope in his God. 

“It is not under the sharpest, but the longest trials, that we are most in danger of fainting”

Andrew Fuller

The Dark Tunnel of Anguish

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
 How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
 and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (vv. 1-2)

Though not told what prompted David to write this psalm, we can perceive his frame of mind. Repetition of the phrase how long (vv. 1-2) conveys a sense of longing for relief from a protracted trial. “It is not under the sharpest, but the longest trials, that we are most in danger of fainting” (Andrew Fuller). In addition, he says God has forgotten him and hidden his face, conveying a sense of abandonment. Even the use of me and my in these initial verses reveal a dark introspection. 

We all have experienced anguish. From the wayward toddler feeling abandoned in a forest of strangers, to the teen enduring the rejection of her peers, to the old man left alone with his fading memories, we all know some level of this anguish. Nothing can extinguish the thrill of independence more than being left to ourselves. Yet, no condition is so dire as a God-forsaken soul. 

A Glimmer of Faith

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
 light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
 lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. (vv. 3-4) 

In verse one, David cries, “O LORD,” but in verse three he prays, “O LORD, my God.” The two words my and God, when employed separately, have the power to drown us in self-pity, guilt, and fear. But when joined together they can vanquish spiritual depression and expel the darkness of self-pity. Yahweh, the one true living God, is his God. 

What David so desperately needs in his situation is not relief from the trial, nor even the strength to endure it. He needs clearer vision of reality — the profound reality of his God

The Light of Hope

But I have 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. (vv. 5-6) 

Reflecting on his relationship with God turns David’s mind from fear and despair to confidence and rejoicing. Though his circumstance has not changed, David sees that he is anchored to God’s steadfast love. His salvation is so certain that he can rejoice in it. Self-pity gives way to an overwhelming sense of blessedness. 

Christian, the Lord is our God by his gracious, eternal, immutable decision. In Christ, he purposed to redeem us, forgive our sins, adopt us as his children, and lavish his grace on us (Eph. 1:3-7). The clouds that obscure the sun do nothing to reduce it brilliance. Neither can anything or anyone diminish the love of our heavenly Father who sent his precious Son to die for us (Rom. 8:38-39). When threatened and harassed by enemies without and within, we may throw down the gauntlet: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:35).

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