Theme: A Prolonged Struggle
In this week’s lessons we are reminded that although there are times when we might feel abandoned by God, we must persevere in prayer in order to enjoy the sense of God’s presence once again.
Scripture: Psalm 13:1-6
Psalm 13 has a simple but very important outline, which we need to keep in mind. There are three parts, each consisting of two verses. Verses 1 and 2 express David’s feeling of abandonment. Verses 3 and 4 are a prayer in which he asks God to turn his face toward him again and to answer his questions. Verses 5 and 6 express David’s recovered trust in God and have a tone of rejoicing. In these verses David recalls that God has been good to him in the past and says that he is sure God will be good to him again. We need to note the place of prayer in this psalm. It occurs in the very middle and is the turning point. That is an important thing to know.
And here is a minor, technical point: the number of lines per stanza. The first stanza of the psalm has five lines. The second stanza has four lines. The third stanza has three lines in reality, although in the New International Version the last line has been broken into two parts to make a four-line stanza. This means that the form of the poem, as well as the subject matter, moves from the tumultuous and emotional beginning (expressed in five lines), through an increasingly calm prayer (expressed in four lines), to a final expression of trust in God and harmony (expressed in three lines). Franz Delitzsch, one of the great nineteenth century commentators on the Psalms, wrote, “This song, as it were, casts up constantly lessening waves, until it becomes still as the sea when smooth as a mirror, and the only motion discernible at last is that of the joyous ripple of calm repose.”2
We turn to the psalm itself then, and the first thing we find is the poet’s expression of this very intense feeling of abandonment: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me” (vv. 1, 2)?
It reveals a number of reasons for his feelings. The first is a prolonged struggle. The first thing to note about this stanza is the obvious one. The most important words are the question, “How long?” It is repeated four times: 1) “How long, O LORD . . . will you forget me?”; 2) “How long will you hide your face from me?”; 3) “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?”; and 4) “How long will my enemy triumph over me?” It is an effective way of saying that the struggle being described has continued for a very long time.
I do not hesitate to say that this is an important cause, perhaps even the most frequent cause of a feeling of abandonment. In the short term we do not think this way at all. We may be unaware of God’s presence or be puzzled about his apparent silence where a particular prayer of ours is concerned. But we trust that God has reasons for being silent, and we try to be patient. We still believe God is there. It is different when the short term experience becomes a long term pattern and we begin to wonder whether God’s silence may endure “forever.” For that is the term David uses when he asks, “Will you forget me forever?” We begin to imagine that the end of this period of distressing and painful abandonment will never come.
One commentator writes, “Well must David have understood what this was, when, hunted by Saul, he knew not where to betake himself, at one time seeking refuge among the Moabites, at another in the wilderness of Ziph; now an outlaw hiding himself in the cave of Adullam, and anon a captain in the service of the King of the Philistines; and amid all his projects, haunted by the mournful conviction, “I shall now one day perish by the hand of Saul.”3
Andrew Fuller, another of the older commentators, said, “It is not under the sharpest, but the longest trials, that we are most in danger of fainting…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.”4
Review the outline of the psalm. How does the number of stanzas reflect the subject matter?
What is the first reason for the poet’s feelings of abandonment in Psalm 13?
Application: Are you going through a prolonged struggle now that is causing you to feel abandoned by God? What do you need to do in response? What does the Lord want to teach you?
2Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 1, trans. Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), p. 199. Original German edition 1859-1860; first English edition 1867.
3J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), 1: 181. Original edition 1878-1879.
4Qouoted by C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. la, Psalms 1-26 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 155.