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How Long, O Lord?

Andrew Hotari | The Voice of Zion June/July 2024 - The Sabbath Word 2 Article --

How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved. But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me. 

– Psalm 13

Psalm 13 originates in the depths of severe trial. It is the prayer of a struggling soul that has turned to the heavenly Father for answers. The psalmist feels that he has suffered for a long time and in this perceived absence of God’s help we hear the repeated cry: “How long, O Lord, how long, how long, how long?”

This psalm of David has not been linked to any given event in his turbulent life. When we recognize the thoughts contained in this passage, we see how it portrays aspects that can apply more generally to the constant battle of living faith. 

Many have pointed to that time in David’s life when he fled for his life from King Saul. We remember that Saul hunted David for many, many years. “Saul became David’s enemy continually” (1 Sam. 18:29). This period began in earnest when David’s wife Michal helped him escape through the window of their house into the night after Saul’s servants had been ordered to go and slay him. He left everything behind; his country, his home, his wife, family, and everything that he possessed. Here was a young man in the prime of his life; highly acclaimed; a champion of the Lord God of Israel whom songs were sung about, now living as a nomad in hiding. 

David lived in constant fear of death, fleeing from place to place, country to country. The wrath and anger of his determined pursuer was fueled by the resources of an entire nation. At times there were thousands of soldiers seeking him amongst the rocks and caves of the wilderness. Even when David would have had opportunity to retaliate and slay his enemy while he slept, he found himself unable to lift a hand against the Lord’s anointed. Some historical accounts estimate that this period from David’s first departure until the eventual passing of Saul lasted close to a decade.

Surely this kind of fearful, wearisome and lengthy trial could give cause for such a psalm. One can very easily begin to think that God has forgotten him or her. Job, like David, faced shockingly difficult trials. Job also asked of the Lord, “Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and holdest me for thine enemy?” (Job 13:24).

Both David and Job described an enemy that seemingly had free reign over them and caused them to suffer greatly. David feared in this psalm that the enemy would prevail and that he might be permanently cut off from the Lord through death. Isn’t this the greatest fear of a child of God, that we would be separated permanently from God our Father? Eternal death is the greatest tragedy possible for humans, far greater than any temporal suffering or fatality. 

Sometimes we too can feel that our three-fold enemy is an overwhelming adversary. But God has promised to be strong in the weak. David did the right thing: in time of trouble he turned to the Lord. “Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help” (Ps. 22:11). He continues, “But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord; he is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall help them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him” (Ps. 37:39,40).

In a time of heavy suffering, we might confront God with impatience and resentment. He becomes responsible for our conflict. He is not protecting us from misery. He has forsaken us. Dear travel friend, have you ever felt this way in your life? Do you sometimes feel as if your heavenly Father has forgotten you? As if He has left you to fight an impossible battle alone? In our own personal life of faith, we can experience similar thoughts, fears, accusations and questions expressed by the psalmist. We can feel much sorrow, bitterness, helplessness and worry in the midst of tribulation. We often become weary and discouraged. But has He really forgotten us? Does God make mistakes? Or have we simply lost our trust? 

Isaiah wrote that the Lord “will not forget thee. Behold I have graven thee upon the palms of my hand” (Isa. 49:16). He has inscribed the image of His chosen ones into His hands. We can read further, “In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy redeemer” (Isa. 54:8). We remember the words of our Lord and Saviour Jesus: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt. 28:20). Dear child of God, let us always remember that we will never be forsaken or forgotten! 

When we read from holy Scripture about the lives of the former travelers, does it not bring into focus our own personal endeavor? We find that we are all but faulty sinners who fight the good fight of faith day by day, moment by moment. We are carried by the power of the gospel message. And like David, we need to simply trust in God’s mercy. Have you ever spoken to a journey friend about difficult trials experienced in the past? It’s often a very healthy conversation because it brings to light the wonderful grace and love of God. 

When one is able to reflect that God has helped in the time of trouble and by His grace alone, we can again say, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (1 Sam. 7:12). With joy we join with the writer of our text and “sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.”  

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