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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
This psalm consists properly of three parts:
I. A complaint as of one who was forsaken by God; who was persecuted, and who saw no means of deliverance; who took counsel with his own heart how he might be delivered, but who found no way in which it could be done, Psalm 13:1-2.
II. An earnest prayer to God that He would interpose; that He would attend to the cry of the sufferer; that He would enlighten his mind; that his enemy might not be allowed to prevail against him, and rejoice over his fall, Psalm 13:2-3.
III. A cheerful confidence in God that he would grant this favor, and interpose in his behalf, Psalm 13:5-6.
This is entitled, "A Psalm of David," and there is no reason to suppose that he was not the author. Yet there are in it no indications of the time when it was written or of the circumstances under which it was posed. It would seem to have been time of persecution, and it would be most natural to refer its composition to the persecutions which David experienced from Saul. Most of the rabbinical writers understand it as referring to the whole Hebrew people, and as expressing their sentiments and feelings in times of persecution in general. Kimchi understands it as referring to the present exile and trials of the Jewish people. DeWette. The psalm, though undoubtedly composed with reference to the special circumstances and trials of the author, contains sentiments applicable at all times to believers, and may be regarded as exemplifying the way in which pious feeling expresses itself in times of persecution and trial. Individuals are not unfrequently in circumstances in which the language of this psalm exactly expresses the feelings of their hearts; and the psalm is of great and permanent value, therefore, in the church, as illustrating the fact that good people may sometimes feel desolate and forsaken, as if even God had left them; the fact that they will, in such circumstances, cry earnestly to God for his interposition; and the fact that they will have, and will manifest, as the result of such an appeal to God, a cheerful confidence in His protecting care.
The title - "To the chief Musician" (margin, overseer) - is the same as that prefixed to the fourth Psalm, with the omission of the words "On Neginoth." See the notes at that title.
1‹‹To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.›› How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?
How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? - literally, "until when." The psalmist breaks out into this cry "in the midst" of his troubles. He had apparently borne them as long as he could. It seemed as if they would never come to an end. We may presume that he had been patient and uncomplaining; that he had borne his trials long with the hope and belief that they would soon terminate; that he had waited patiently for deliverance, uttering no words of complaint; but now he begins to despair. He feels that his troubles will never end. He sees no prospect of deliverance; no signs or tokens that God would interpose; and he breaks out, therefore, in this language of tender complaint, as if he was utterly forsaken, and would be forever. The mind, even of a good man, is not unfrequently in this condition. He is borne down with troubles. He has no disposition to murmur or complain. He bears all patiently and long. He hopes for relief. He looks for it. But relief does not come; and it seems now that his troubles never will terminate. The darkness deepens; his mind is overwhelmed; he goes to God, and asks - not with complaining or murmuring, but with feelings bordering on despair - whether these troubles never will cease; whether he may never hope for deliverance.
Forever? - He had been forgotten so long, and there appeared to be so little prospect of deliverance, that it seemed as if God never would return and visit him with mercy. The expression denotes a state of mind on the verge of despair.
How long - Referring to a second aspect or phase of his troubles. The first was, that he seemed to be "forgotten." The second referred to here is, that God seemed to hide his face from him, and he asked how long this was to continue.
Wilt thou hide thy face from me - Favour - friendship - is shown by turning the face benignantly toward one; by smiling upon him; in Scriptural language, by "lifting up the light of the countenance" upon one. See the note at Psalm 4:6. Aversion, hatred, displeasure, are shown by turning away the countenance. God seemed to the psalmist thus to show marks of displeasure toward him, and he earnestly asks how long this was to continue.
2How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?
How long - This refers to the third aspect of the case, or the third phase of the trouble, that is, that he was perplexed and embarrassed, having a deep and heavy sorrow in his heart, and he asks how long this was to continue. "Shall I take counsel in my soul." This refers to the methods which he endeavored to devise to escape from trouble. He was perplexed, persecuted, and apparently forsaken; and being thus apparently forsaken, he was constrained to attempt to devise some plan for his own deliverance, without interposition or help from on high. He was under a necessity of relying on himself; and he asks "how long" this was to continue, or when he might hope that God would interpose to aid him by his counsels, and thus to deliver him.
Having sorrow in my heart daily - Every day; constantly. That is, there was no intermission to his troubles. The sorrow in his heart seems to have been not merely that which was caused by troubles from without, but also that which sprang from the painful necessity of attempting to form plans for his own relief - plans which seemed to be in vain.
How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? - This is the fourth form or phase of his trouble, and he asks how long this was to continue. This clause suggests perhaps the exact form of the trial. It was that which arose from the designs of an enemy who persecuted and oppressed the psalmist, and who had done it so effectually that he seemed to have triumphed over him, or to have him completely in his power. All the other forms of the trial - the fact that he seemed to be forgotten; that God had apparently averted his face; that he was left to form plans of deliverance which seemed to be vain, were connected with the fact here adverted to, that an enemy had persecuted him, and had been suffered to gain a triumph over him. Who this enemy was we do not know.
3Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Consider and hear me - literally, "Look, hear me." God had seemed to avert his face as if he would not even look upon him Psalm 13:1; and the psalmist now prays that he "would" look upon him - that he would regard his wants - that he would attend to his cry. So we pray to one who turns away from us as if he were not disposed to hear, and as if he cared nothing about us.
Lighten mine eyes - The allusion here is, probably, to his exhaustion, arising from trouble and despair, as if he were about to die. The sight grows dim as death approaches; and he seemed to feel that death was near. He says that unless God should interpose, the darkness would deepen, and he must die. The prayer, therefore, that God would "enlighten his eyes," was a prayer that he would interpose and save him from that death which he felt was rapidly approaching.
Lest I sleep the sleep of death - literally, "Lest I sleep the death;" that is, "in" death, or, as in the common version, the sleep of death. The idea is, that death, whose approach was indicated by the dimness of vision, was fast stealing over him as a sleep, and that unless his clearness of vision were restored, it would soon end in the total darkness - the deep and profound sleep - of death. Death is often compared to sleep. See the note at 1 Corinthians 11:30; the note at John 11:11, John 11:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; Daniel 12:2. The resemblance between the two is so obvious as to have been remarked in all ages, and the comparison is found in the writings of all nations. It is only, however, in connection with Christianity that the idea has been fully carried out by the doctrine of the resurrection, for as we lie down at night with the hope of awaking to the pursuits and enjoyments of a new day, so the Christian lies down in death with the hope of awaking in the morning of the resurrection to the pursuits and enjoyments of a new and eternal day. Everywhere else death is, to the mind, a long and unbroken sleep. Compare Jeremiah 51:39, Jeremiah 51:57.
4Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him - I have overpowered him; I have conquered him. That is, to triumph over him as having obtained a complete victory.
And those that trouble me - Hebrew, "My adversaries." The reference here is the same as in the former member of the verse. It is to the enemies that seemed almost to have triumphed over him already, and under whose power he was ready to sink. "Rejoice." Exult; triumph.
When I am moved - Moved from my steadfastness or firmness; when I am overcome. Hitherto he had been able to hold out against them; now he began to despair, and to fear that they would accomplish their object by overcoming and subduing him. His ground of apprehension and of appeal was, that by his being vanquished the cause in which he was engaged would suffer, and that the enemies of religion would triumph.
5But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.
But I have trusted in thy mercy - In thy favor; thy friendship; thy promises. His original confidence had been in God only, and not in himself. That confidence he still maintained; and now, as the result of that, he begins to exult in the confidence that he would be safe. The idea is, "I have trusted in the mercy of God; I still trust, and I will trust forever."
My heart shall rejoice in thy salvation - The word "salvation" here does not refer to salvation in the future world, but to deliverance from his present troubles, or to God's interposition in putting him into a condition of safety. The idea is, that he had entire confidence that God would interpose, and that there would yet be cause to rejoice in that salvation as actually accomplished. He now calls on his heart to rejoice in the assurance that it would be his. So with us. There will not only be rejoicing in salvation when actually accomplished, but there may, and should be, in the firm conviction that it will be ours.
6I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.
I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me - The word which is here rendered "dealt bountifully" - גמל gâmal - means properly "to deal" with anyone; to "treat" anyone well or ill; and then, to requite, or recompense. When used absolutely, as it is here, it is commonly employed in a good sense, meaning to deal favorably, or kindly, toward anyone; to treat anyone with favor. It means here that God had shown him kindness or favor, and had thus laid the foundation for gratitude and praise. The psalm closes, therefore, with expressions of joy, thankfulness, triumph. Though it begins with depression and sadness, it ends with joy. This is often observable in the Psalms. In the commencement it often occurs that the mind is overwhelmed with sorrow, and there is earnest pleading with God. Light, under the influence of prayer, breaks in gradually upon the soul. The clouds disperse; the darkness disappears. New views of the goodness and mercy of God are imparted; an assurance of his favor is brought to the soul; confidence in his mercy springs up in the heart; and the psalm that began with sorrowful complaining ends with the language of praise and of joy. So, too, it is in our own experience. Afflicted, depressed, and sad, we go to God. Everything seems dark. We have no peace - no clear and cheerful views - no joy. As we wait upon God, new views of his character, his mercy, his love, break upon the mind. The clouds open. Light beams upon us. Our souls take hold of the promises of God, and we, who went to His throne sad and desponding, rise from our devotions filled with praise and joy, submissive to the trials which made us so sad, and rejoicing in the belief that all things will work together for our good.