Summary: In Psalm 13 David exemplifies the process of overcoming discouragement to find encouragement in God.
Wrestling with discouragement and adversity
One world, one dream
During the Olympics we watch athletes compete. We may reflect at times that at least they have an objective measure to know how they are performing. If I run faster than my last time, I am doing better, even if I do not win. If I throw farther than my opponent, I will win, and nobody can say otherwise. Their struggle is against others, against records, against their own limitations, against the natural barriers they strive to overcome:
Our own struggles are not so obvious. There may be a person in our lives who makes things difficult. Like David we may find ourselves with a Saul who pushes against everything we attempt. Unlike Saul, he or she may not even realize they are doing it. That’s the easy one to identify.
Our own bodies betray us.
• chronic conditions and deterioration
Against these competitors, we struggle just to do the normal things like our jobs, our chores, our family responsibilities. At times, it seems like is a no-win competition. Depending on the problem, with medication or devices, we can keep pace, or maybe lag just a little behind, but we can never catch up.
Sometimes it is just life, problems. Some of them are not easily solved, and others must simply be coped with, like a handicap in the Paralympics. We face:
• financial setbacks
• family problems
• things we need, like our houses or cars, broken
When we take one step forward, it seems like we are blown back two steps.
Finally there are the completely intangible opponents:
• Spiritual struggles
• Mental illness
• Habits and personality tendencies that work against us
All of these problems have the capacity to defeat us. Like wrestling a heavier, taller, man, we push and push and hope for progress, but it is slow to come.
What is this Psalm about?
It is difficult to say. David may be running from enemies. Since this psalm is probably from David’s early life, he certainly had enemies in high places, from the king down. David is concerned his enemies will soon find his death an occasion for celebration.
The reference to needing "light" in his "eyes" is often a way of speaking about sickness. When a person is healthy, they are said to have "bright eyes." So, perhaps he is severely ill, he seems to be on the road to death, and is praying for his eyes to be brightened. As is often the case, his human enemies need not have anything to do with his death for it to be a welcome thing.
Maybe his problem is less tangible. He is troubled in his thoughts and has sorrow in his heart. Perhaps he is torn by a difficult decision or he is struggling with depression. Even so, his struggle is desperate if it has the capacity to kill him.
Who is this enemy?
• Is it Saul?
• Is it evil influences?
• Is it even his own doubts?
We cannot say for sure, but the vagueness in this psalm makes it an especially relevant expression of helplessness in many kinds of situations.
Watch what David is feeling
He feels forgotten by God
The events of David’s life are not clearly marked out with the years in which they happened. We don’t know how long he ran from Saul or how his health was during all that time. It was certainly years. How must it have been for him to be anointed king by Samuel only to have to wait and run for his life for years before being crowned as king?
If you have ever dealt with a situation that lasted for years, you know how David felt. Certainly it had all the effects on his mind and heart that he describes here:
• He felt abandoned by God
• He suffered doubt of his own decisions
• He suffered depression
• He felt defeated
David is wrestling inside with his own temptation to be engulfed by his despondency. He does not like the sadness and he is fighting it off, but he feels as if he is losing. Why won’t God lift the darkness? Why won’t He show Himself present and powerful? It is at times like this in our lives that we feel most like giving up. David actually lived in Philistine territory for awhile when he was running from Saul. He must have asked himself many times:
• Did God really choose me?
• Should I be rallying the support of these followers?
• Maybe I misunderstood Samuel
• Why should I fight the inevitable, maybe I should just give in to Saul and let him do his worst