Psalm 13:2


This is one of those numerous psalms which come under the first division specified in our introductory homily. It belongs to those which give us an insight into the religious experiences of an Old Testament saint - probably David - but it matters not whose they were. For they are a precise reflection of the alternations of spiritual mood through which many a sorrowful believer since then has passed; yea, through the like of which many of our readers may be passing now. We can never be too thankful for such psalms as these, showing us, as they do, not so much the objectivities of Divine revelation, as the subjectivities of inward experience. Not that we are bound, in our experience, to find that which corresponds to every phase. By no means. Experienced nurses say that no two babes ever cried exactly alike; and certainly no two children of God ever went through precisely the same experience. Still, the course pursued by the early believers is a fine lesson-book for modern ones. We shall find our study of this psalm suggestive of much in the experience of believers and in the dealings of God with them.

I. HERE ARE REMARKABLE ALTERNATIONS OF MOOD AND EMOTION. There are seven notes in music; there are seven colours in light. If there are seven stages in religious emotion, surely this psalm notes them all. We have a believer:

1. Thinking himself shut off from God. "How long wilt thou forget me... hide thy face from me?" It does not follow that God had hidden his face; and assuredly he had not forgotten the troubled one. Had it been so, the afflicted one had not survived to offer this prayer. Note: It is not in the midst of sore anguish that we can rightly gauge the mind of God towards us. We may be the objects of tenderest compassion even when our sun seems to be eclipsed.

2. Fearing his adversaries. (See ver. 4.) He was evidently surrounded by those who lay in wait for him. He could have faced them boldly had it not been for the hiding of God's face. But that made him tremble, and no wonder.

3. Sorrowfully musing. (Ver. 2.) What a tumult of agitation was he now passing through! And what a bewildered and bewildering host of troublous thoughts and queries seize the mind at such times as these!

4. Sinking under the pressure. (Ver. 3.) The phrase indicates that the psalmist was at the very verge of despair. "Courage almost gone." So that his spirit is failing or his bodily frame is giving way. The writer may mean either or both.

5. Trusting. (Ver. 5.) "The darkest hour is just before the dawn." The woe reaches its deepest and bitterest; and then - trust prevents absolute despair. The renewed heart clings to God, even in the dark. And he to whom our spirit thus clings will appear for us at the right time, and in his own wonder-working way.

6. Trust leads to prayer. The whole psalm is a prayer. One of the greatest blessings in life is to have a friend who will never misunderstand us; and by whom all our unintelligible and contradictory words will be pitied, and not blamed; who will bury our follies in his own love. But there is only One in whom all this exists to perfection - even our God. He never misinterprets the language of broken hearts and bewildered souls - never! We may always tell him exactly what we feel, as we feel it; or, if words will not come, then "our groaning" is not hid from him. He will answer us, not according to our imperfection, but will do exceeding abundantly for us "above all that we can ask or think." The fourth verse may not and does not give us the highest style of pleading. But it indicates the burden on the heart. And whatsoever is a burden on a child's heart is to the Father an object of loving concern, and maybe rolled over on to God (Psalm 55:22; Psalm 142:1-7).

7. Deliverance comes in answer to prayer. And thus it ever will be. So that he who moans at the beginning of prayer may sing at the end of it. "I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me." Thus does this psalm run through the various shades or stages of emotion. Having gone down to the depths of the valley of anguish, the writer comes at length to stand on the heights of the mount of praise!

II. SUCH A REHEARSAL OF EXPERIENCE THROWS MUCH LIGHT ON THE SECRET DEALINGS OF GOD WITH HIS PEOPLE. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him," says the psalmist elsewhere (Psalm 25:14). And this thirteenth psalm lets us into it. It teaches us:

1. That the child of God is the object of the Father's tenderest pity and love, even at the moment of tumultuous anguish and deep darkness of soul. The sun shines just as brightly on us, even when a film over the eyes obscures our sight of it. Saints are never nearer or dearer to the heart of God than when they are in trouble.

2. God graciously sanctifies the anguish, and makes it the means of quickening to intenser devotion. It is not when all is calm that prayer is at its best. Ah, no! It is when we are stunned, startled, half-paralyzed by some dreadful and unexpected trial, that we pray the most earnestly. It is quite possible that at such times words may fail; but God reads deep meaning in the tear, and hears heavenly eloquence in the sighs of those that seek him.

3. The anguish will be removed in God's own time. When the trial sent us has secured its needed end in the quickening of devotion, the strengthening of faith, and the improvement of the whole life, then will the pressure be taken off. Nor ought we to desire it otherwise. It is far more important to have our afflictions sanctified than to have them removed.

4. By the very trials through which we have passed we shall have learnt to be comforters of others. If the psalmist had known that the written experience of his sorrows and his songs would have gone down to hundreds of generations, to comfort sorrowing souls in all time, he would have been thankful for his trouble, sharp as it was. Note:

(1) It is only those who have gone through trouble that can effectually be comforters of others (2 Corinthians 1:6; cf. Hebrews 2:18).

(2) It is not to be supposed that merely because we have sorrow at one moment we shall have joy in the future. Only God's mourners can expect God's comforts. Matthew 5:4 is for those named in Matthew 5:3. The vast difference pointed out in Isaiah 50:10, 11 should be reverently and anxiously pondered.

(3) It is only the renewed soul that can possibly thus trust, pray, and plead, when in the midst of anguish. The supreme concern of each is to accept peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ; to have sin forgiven, and the soul renewed. He who has first cast his burden of sin and guilt on an atoning Saviour, and who is being renewed by the Holy Ghost, may come every day and cast any care, and all his care, upon his Father, God.

(4) It is infinitely better to be in the depth of the valley of sorrow, as a good man, and to let our God lead us up to the height of joy, than, as a godless man, to be at the height of merriment and laughter for awhile, only to sink to the depths of despair. - C.









How long shall I take counsel in my soul?
The literal rendering of this verse brings before us the folly of mere plan making. David is taking counsel in his own soul: inventing plans of self-deliverance; making up schemes of daily life and programmes of service and progress. He no sooner makes one plan than it is displaced by another. His schemes follow in quick succession, but the second always amends the first, and both give way to the third, and he finds that in much scheming is much disappointment; it brings sorrow into his heart daily. By day he is mocked by harassing thoughts; by night he reverses all his plans in dreams; and in the morning he awakes to forget both day and night in some new vision of possible self-deliverance. Thus the mind, left to itself, is self-tormented; being limited in range, it is continually checking its own conclusions, and hesitating as to its own purposes. How true it is, "Without Me ye can do nothing." This is what Jesus Christ said to His disciples, and we feel it to be true in our own souls when we endeavour to invent plans for ourselves, and to make our will into a kind of divinity. It is curious to observe, too, how the Psalmist continually mixes up the right view and the wrong one, and how he is certain to fail into the wrong view the moment he turns away his complete attention from the living God. In this verse he occupies the wrong standpoint when he is wondering how long his enemy is to be exalted over him. When a man is truly living in God he has no time to think about his enemy, nor any disposition to consider what that enemy will do. God occupies the whole soul with equal vividness at every point, and dominates in gracious sovereignty over every beating pulse and living thought.

(Joseph Parker, D. D.)

Having sorrow in my heart dally.
Can this be a common experience? Many of us would say so. Sorrow is an excellent discipline, and a healing medicine. Let us notice a few of our sorrows.

I. THERE IS THAT OF OUR LONELY PATH. Many people find a friend, husband, wife, business, pleasure on which they can lean, but there comes a time when you feel helpless. Sometimes you say, "There is nobody who has to walk in a path like mine." This is true, but then we all feel the same. Let our loneliness teach us to seek the presence of God. You will always be disappointed until you feel the touch of God.

II. THAT WHICH IS TOO PAINFUL TO RECEIVE SYMPATHY IN WORDS. See the history of Job, when his three friends came to mourn with him. "None spake a word unto him; for the) saw that his grief was very great." None but God can comfort you.

III. THAT WHICH ARISES FROM DOUBT. Satan said to our Lord, "If Thou be the Son of God." So we all feel at times, and we say, "Is there really a God?" "Can He care for me? No," seems the answer to everything at times. You may have a medicine chest in your house, which may help you in slight disorders; but there may come a time when it fails, and you look for other help. And so, at times, the Bible, the Church, and the minister are like that medicine chest, and you turn from each, saying, "I cannot obtain any relief there." At such time go into your room, shut your door, and speak to God Himself. It is a sin to doubt if you make it despair. Last night, when I went up to bed, my little child called out, "Papa, I am so afraid!" I comforted her, and said, "Don't be afraid, dear!" She whispered, "Papa, leave your door wide open, and then I can go to sleep." I went to my room, and let the door bang against the chair, to let the little one hear that it was wide open. The thought that my door was wide open, and that my care reached her from my room to hers rested her little, anxious heart, and she slept the sleep of the innocent. In your doubts and fears keep fast hold on this fact — that Jesus Christ is God's door, wide open for you.

IV. THAT FROM TEMPORAL LOSSES. A ruined merchant came home one afternoon earlier than usual, and, sitting in his chair, buried his face in his hands. When his wife touched him on the shoulder he exclaimed, in a groan like as from a man who is being buried alive, "Mary, I have lost all! I am ruined!" She said, "But, James, you have not lost me!" Then a sweet child came up, saying, "Father, you haven't lost me either!" One of his daughters said, "Father, have you lost God? Another asked, Father, have you lost heaven? Stupid man, he said he was ruined! Fancy a man saying he has lost "all" when he has at least one or two kind friends, and also a loving God and a blessed heaven!

V. THAT FROM SIN. There is great sorrow in the heart of a sinner, and it is well to be so. It would be a calamity else. The wages of sin is the death of happiness, but the life of misery.

VI. THAT FROM BEREAVEMENT. Some of you keep relics of your departed ones. The boy's rusty knife, with only one blade, and that broken; but how the eyes of the mother glisten when she looks on that old knife. Here is a toy soldier, without a head; but see the tear of that strong man drop thereon. Ah, your children who have gone from you! Are they not the Lord's magnets to draw you up to heaven?

(William Birch.)

To "commune with" our own hearts and to "take counsel," as is meant here, are not the same things. We may pore over our guilt and wretchedness, and overlook our highest mercies. Such, for a time, was the case with David, and there are many who still do the same.

I. THE DISCONSOLATE SITUATION, WITH THE REMEDY TO WHICH HE REPAIRED UNDER IT.

1. He was sorely persecuted.

2. The Lord seemed to prosper his persecutors and not him.

3. His most intimate acquaintance seemed to have forsaken him.

4. And there were spiritual distresses beside. The Lord "hid His face."

5. And for a long time. "How long," etc. Now concerning all this load of trouble, he is said to have taken "counsel in his soul." He was in much perplexity and distress. It did not last long, however, for, he says, "I have trusted in Thy mercy." What cannot Divine mercy effect?

II. THOSE WHO ARE LIKE DAVID AND NEED THE SAME HELP. Such are —

1. Those who sink into despondency under the adverse providences of God.

2. Those who at the outset of their religious concern are encompassed with darkness and long-continued dejection. Various are the causes of this. Circumstances without them. False ideas as to election. Something within them, as a propensity to take unfavourable views of themselves; or a species of self-righteousness.

3. Those who during the most part of their Christian profession live under habitual fear lest they should prove reprobate at last. Now if we would wish to discover whether there were any particles of steel in a heap of rubbish, the best way would not be to search for them, but to hold a large and powerful magnet over it. And this, if it be there, is the way to discover true religion in our souls. Hold the truths of the Gospel over them and this will draw it forth.

(Andrew Fuller.)

Presumption and despair are the two fatal rocks on which we are in danger of making shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience. A vain conceit of our own righteousness and strength exposes to the one; sad and gloomy reflections on our own sin and corruptions, as if they exceeded the mercies of God and excluded us from the hope of forgiveness, plunge us into the other. There is a godly jealousy of ourselves which is highly proper and necessary, as it leads to watchfulness and circumspection and a constant dependence upon Divine strength. But this jealousy may, like zeal, be without knowledge, and may exceed its just and proper limits. Point out some of those things on account of which good men take counsel in their souls and have sorrow in their heart daily.

1. Many humble and sincere Christians are apt to complain of irregular and wandering thoughts, in prayer and other religious duties. Whence they conclude that their minds are not duly impressed with a sense of Divine things. Doubts and fears of this nature constitute the grand distinction between man, as a being capable of religion, and the inferior creatures. In everything we attempt we are interrupted with various impressions and distractions of mind. There are many who cannot attend upon any religious duty with that steadiness and alacrity which they discover in their secular employments. Others, more deserving of our sympathy, both desire and endeavour to have their minds composed when engaged in devotional duties; but, to their sorrow of heart, they fall short of their wishes and fail in their attempts. The best of men are not wholly exempted from these wanderings of heart. It may be asked, how are we to distinguish the suggestions and temptations of Satan from those that arise from the remains of sin and corruption in the renewed heart? We may distinguish them by the welcome reception we give them on the one hand, and by the pain and uneasiness they give us on the other. Do you abhor the evil thoughts and suggestions you complain of? In that case you have no reason to be east down or discouraged. His grace will be sufficient for you. It is the consent of the will that constitutes the criminality of any action whatever; and, while it is our daily struggle to withhold this, and we are, by Divine grace, enabled to withhold it, we have no reason to be cast down or disquieted.

2. Another source of inward disquietude arises from the defects and imperfections that attend our best services. There is not a just man that liveth and sinneth not, is the language of Scripture and of universal experience. But this consideration, though it ought to humble, need not discourage us in our Christian warfare. Though we cannot hope wholly to eradicate our sins and corruptions, it is our duty to resist and oppose them by our constant endeavours and fervent prayers. Those who imagine that they have arrived at sinless perfection must be unacquainted with the spirituality of the Divine law, and with the extent of its obligations. This is our encouragement, that if any man sin we have an advocate with the Father. With regard to those who have fallen into grievous sins after the most solemn engagements, their case requires to be treated with the utmost caution. A good man may be "overtaken in a fault." Such are fit objects of Christian compassion, and stand in need of all that comfort which the nature of the Gospel covenant, rightly understood, abundantly administers.

3. Another source of disquietude arises from the outward troubles and afflictions of life. When these overtake the Christian he naturally looks up to God for relief. But guilt is suspicious, and there is sin enough in the best of men to justify the severest trials with which they may be visited in this world. When affliction brings the sins of men of distinguished piety to their remembrance the recollection of them is accompanied with many aggravating circumstances. In all the trying circumstances of this changeful life the Christian has an anchor of hope sure and steadfast.

4. Another source of disquietude is seen in the case of David — "The Lord hid His face from him." He walked in darkness. This is not peculiar to the case of David. The exercised Christian knows what is meant by it, and has felt it in his painful experience. Job experienced the same. David says, "I have trusted in Thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation." This remedy will be found effectual in every similar case. We shall not pretend to state all the reasons why God permits some of His dearest children to lose their spiritual comfort. One reason may be, that they are apt to build too much on their frames and feelings. Practical reflections —(1) If the thoughts of our hearts and the actions of our lives have so great an influence on our present peace and future happiness, we ought constantly to observe and duly to regulate them.(2) Religion is intended to regulate our practice, as well as to soothe and elevate our minds. As in the natural, so in the spiritual life, activity and enjoyment are essentially connected with one another; and the more we attend to the weightier matters of the law, the more will our comforts abound.

(James Ross, D. D.)

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