How Long, O Lord?

Ayear0831pcLife has gone well. Suddenly, however, it seems chaotic. Worse, even though you pray, it seems that God is not answering. That kind of change can affect individuals—and communities. What do you do when it seems that God just doesn’t hear? David wrestles with that in Psalm 13.

Cry, how long? How long will the Lord forget you? We don’t know the details of David’s situation when he wrote this plea. Is he reflecting on the Lord’s blessing he had experienced after defeating Goliath and enjoying the favor of King Saul—only to be followed by desperate escapes and intense persecution? Was he dealing with some other enemy? The discouragement is intense—he repeats the question four times. Does God really forget? Will he truly hide his face from his people? It is not that God has amnesia. Rather, his hearing, remembering, and seeing are preludes to his action (see Exodus 2:24-25), and action by God is what David finds lacking—or so it seems. That leads to David debating with himself. How does what I know about God, what he has said about himself, the faithfulness I have experienced, how does that fit with his seeming silence? It’s not wrong to wrestle honestly with those hard questions. Habakkuk borrows the same language as he experiences the ungodly behavior of the covenant people. The souls of the saints under the altar in Revelation 6 echo the cry. Believers who have seen their numbers decimated by martyrdom pray this Psalm.

What can you do? Cry out to your God! The opening lament borders on despair, but the lament is addressed to the Lord, and it turns into a prayer. David pleads with the Lord to see him, instead of hiding his face. David reminds the Lord that his death will give his enemies, who are also enemies of God, opportunity to boast. Keep that in mind as you pray. Certainly you can ask God to grant what you think you need. But also keep your eyes on what you are praying for in terms of the kingdom of God. Pray for God to be honored, for his name to be glorified.

So, trust and sing! Trust the Lord’s unfailing love. David’s confidence lies in the covenantal faithfulness of God, his unfailing love, his steadfast mercies. It is a term that brings to mind God’s faithfulness to his covenant. Notice how God’s remembering in Exodus 2 is followed in Exodus 3 by his citing his covenant name as he calls Moses to be the deliverer. Revelation 6 reminds suffering saints on earth as well as the souls under the alter that God’s unfailing love does not change. The Redeemer is both the Lion and slain Lamb. David’s thankful rejoicing contrasts with the rejoicing that God’s enemies would have expressed, had the Lord not delivered him. “He is sure of his faith, and his faith makes him sure; had he doubted the reality of his trust in God, he would have blocked up one of the windows through which the sun of heaven delights to shine. Faith is now in exercise, and consequently is readily discovered; there is never a doubt in our heart about the existence of faith while it is in action: when the hare or partridge is quiet we see it not, but let the same be in motion and we soon perceive it. All the powers of his enemies had not driven the psalmist from his stronghold. . . . . He neither could nor would give up his confidence in the Lord his God. ” (C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, on Psalm 13:5).

Sing to the Lord! That is how you respond to God’s unfailing love. David can sing, the Lord has been good to me. You can sing that with deeper conviction, for you know that you have been delivered from an enemy more dangerous than Goliath or Saul. David’s greater Son has defeated his enemies. He did that by humbling himself. “How long” is not just David’s cry. It is part of the agony of your Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane. His wrestling with himself took David’s struggles to a whole new level. His resurrection, which is also your resurrection, is the ultimate good that the Lord has done for you.

How long” is a legitimate question. But the answer required the very Son of God to utter the same cry. Not just because it is David’s cry, but because it is the cry of your Lord, when you ask, “how long,” you can be assured of the unfailing love of your God.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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