Summary: This psalm shows us how we can overcome our despair through faith in God.
How Long O Lord
“How long O Lord?” Four times in this brief psalm, David makes this plaintive cry. “How long O Lord?” This psalm was, no doubt, written during a low point in David’s life. Possibly during the time when Saul is pursuing David to try to kill him. This story is told in I Sam. 20-31. In these chapters, we see David fleeing from one place to another in order to escape Saul and certain death. Later on his life, after David becomes king of Judah, he is driven from Jerusalem by his own son, Absalom (II Sam. 15). Many times David has people with him but no doubt there were times when David found himself alone. I Samuel 22:1 tells of one of those times. David had fled to Achish, king of Gath but then became afraid that Achish would also kill him. I Sam. 22:1 says, “So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam . . .” The second half of that verse says that people came to him but for awhile David was alone in the cave. He perhaps felt like Elijah when he fled from Jezebel. I Kings 19:9 finds Elijah in a cave when he cries out to God, “And I alone am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” It is in such a context that Psalm 13 may have been written.
There are four parts to this psalm. In verses 1-2, David utters a cry of desperation. In verses 3-4, he pleads to God for help. In verse 5 David declares his faith and in verse 6, David sings praises to God.
I. A cry of desperation (Vss. 1-2)
A, Forsaken by his God
“How long, O Lord, will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? ”
David, the one anointed by God through the prophet Samuel to be King of Israel now sits alone in a cave. The cave is dark and cold. He dares not start a fire for fear of being found. How could God let this happen to him? It seems that God, who protected him from wild beasts, giants, madmen, and even his own son, has forsaken him. The God who gave him victory over the bear and the lion and Goliath; the God who had protected him from the spear of Saul, from Achish, King of Gath, and Absalom, his son, was nowhere to be found. Now, as David sits alone in this damp, dark, dreary cave, God seems so far away. In his agony of soul, he asks God, “How Long?” Is this going to go on forever? Are you never going to return to me?
B Forsaken by his friends.
“How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day?
Not only does David not feel the presence of God, he is separated from his friends and their counsel. He lacks the counsel of his dear friend, Jonathan who counseled him to flee from Saul after Jonathan discovered that Saul intended to kill David (I Sam. 20:33-42). Ahimelech, the priest, who helped David in his distress, is not there. He does not have the counsel of his brothers or the prophet Gad who will come to him later. Now David has only himself as his own counselor as he sits weeping in the dark, day and night. In this downward spiral he asks God, “How long O Lord? Will I never see my family and friends again?”
C. Hunted by his enemies
“How long will my enemy be exalted over me?”
David huddles in the darkness while his enemies live in palaces. David, who had once lived in the king’s palace as the king’s servant and later as king himself, sees in his mind, his enemies living where he should have been. More than that, David sees the enemies of God being exalted while he, the servant of God, hides in a cave. “How long,” he asks, “can this go on?” David has a similar question in Ps. 74:10 when he asks, “How long, O God, will the adversary revile, and the enemy spurn you name forever?” God’s enemies are David’s enemies and as God’s servant, David’s enemies are God’s enemies. That being true, how could God let this go on and on and on.
II. A plea for help (Vss. 3-4)
A. that God would hear his plea.
“Consider and answer me, O Lord my God.”
Although David feels deserted by God, in desperation he still turns to God, the only one who has the power to help him. This seems to be a contradiction. In one breath, David complains to God that God has forgotten him. In the next breath David is pleading with God to hear his prayer. David is tired, hungry, cold and alone. In his mind, he despairs of his very life. But in his soul he remains a faithful child of God. First, David asks God to “consider” his plea. David is asking God to “look down from heaven” (Ps. 80:14) with compassion, see David in his despair and listen to his plea. He prays as Isaiah did in Isa. 63:15, “Look down from heaven and see from your holy and glorious habitation . . .”