Praying the Psalms: Psalm 13

Forgotten. We all have moments when we feel like God has abandoned us. Each of us will face dark days, when it seems like the present sufferings are unceasing. We take one punch after another and we long to collapse. Psalm 13 is a classic example of a psalm of lament. Psalms of lament are all over the psalter. Lament simply means complaint. The idea of lament can sound very uncomfortable to Christians today, because it can appear like a lack of faith and trust in God. In so many ways when crisis hits, we feel the pressure to put on plastic smiles and act like everything is ok. Is complaining against the Lord and expressing frustration appropriate for people of faith? Is there any room for lament in the Christian life? As we examine Psalm 13, I think we will discover the answer. IMG_0500

Commentary

v. 1-2 - The psalm begins with questions. Each question begins with the phrase "How long?” The question itself is not one necessarily looking for an informative answer, but David is expressing his anguish and feelings. David is laying his soul bare before God. He feels forgotten and that God has hid his face. He is in sorrow as his enemies exalt over him.

David's prayer is both bold and refreshing. Often we think that God is unable to handle our emotions, our grieving, and our sadness. David's prayer breathes true authenticity into our plastic and superficial Christianity. Yet, David expresses in these pounding questions his feelings of abandonment at God's apparent indifference to his circumstances. There are situations that we face that lead us to ask questions just like David. When our spouse continues to battle cancer for years we pray, "How long, O LORD?" When we experience the heartbreak of a wayward child rejecting Christ we weep, "How long, O LORD?" When we are laid off from our job and the bills are piling up we cry, "How long, O LORD?" When we stand over the casket of our child through the sorrow we whisper, "How long, O LORD?"

This broken world is filled with hardship and sorrows. In times of great sadness we can feel that the Lord is not near or that maybe he has forgotten. We feel abandoned and isolated as we are paralyzed by depression and anxiety. When we feel this way should we just ignore it? When we walk into the church should we hide our sorrow with a insincere glibness? I suggest not. Rather, we should follow the pattern that David lays out for us in this psalm. We should get on our needs and express our heartache and brokenness before the Lord. God knows how we are thinking and feeling better than we know ourselves. There is no emotion you can express to him in words that he does not already know.

As we will see in this Psalm, the expression of lament leads to healing, comfort, and ultimately worship. When we burry our emotions in a sea of fabricated pretense, we do not allow the Almighty to restore us with his presence. Like David we must go before God in prayer. It is often through prayer that God teaches us in his presence and renews us. When we hide our emotions and frustrations with God we rob ourselves of healing and God of his glory as he moves us from lament to praise.

v. 3-4 - David begins making petitions towards God. He asks the Lord for his attention, to consider him and answer him. He is asking the Lord to intervene in his depression. He feels so low he could die. He begs the Lord to lift up his eyes  and to help him in his moment of desperation. He prays for deliverance from his enemies which are causing him to be shaken with fear.

Through the ocean of emotions David is experiencing, he begins to ask God for help. Simply coming to God in lament is a sign of great faith. David is not lamenting to grumble in superiority towards God, rather he is lamenting because he is so dependent on God. His attitude is not disrespectful towards God, but he is incredibly honest with his thoughts and feelings. David in asking the Lord to address his depression is already beginning the process of healing. In that simple act of asking God for help, David is admitting that he is insufficient for this pit he has found himself. His prayer in these verses is an expression of trust in the God who can help him and deliver him.

v. 5-6 - As David is lamenting, and as he comes to God in prayer something begins to happen. As David lays himself bare  before the presence of God in prayer, God doesn't change David's circumstances, but he does change David. As we look at the final two verses the tone is remarkably different from the repetitious "How longs" in which this Psalm began. David in the presence of God is filled with resolve and confidence as he is renewed by God.

Now, instead of doubting God's presence in his life, David has turned to trust. His heart is no longer filled with sorrow, but now his heart is rejoicing in God's salvation. He has moved from complaint to praise. What explains this change? Well here we see the pattern of lament as laid on the Scripture. Biblical lament has a flow to it. Lament moves from complaint to praise. The process of lament changes the lamenter. As a man or woman comes before God in anxiety, that simple act of faith begins to change the person. It is not always immediate or even within the same day. Sometimes this process may be stretched for weeks or months, but when we go to the presence of God in our trouble, our sorrow will turn to joy.  Though our circumstances may not change, our rigorous prayer expresses a dependence on God in which God gives us a joyful contentment regardless of our present circumstances. In a similar way the apostle Paul in Philippians says something similar when writes, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:6-7)

This is key for us to understand the Christian life. When we bring our anxiety to the Lord in prayer, that simple act of trust changes us as we express dependence on a God who knows all and is able to help. Even though the cancer may not go away and though our child remains in the casket, God by grace gives us a peace and a joyful contentment even in the pain.  As David says, he rejoices because God has dealt bountifully with me. Certainly God has dealt bountifully with every Christian. For in Christ, we have been given salvation from sin and death and are promised victory when he returns. The inheritance and glory waiting for us when we cross from life to death far outweighs our present sufferings, no matter how great they may be. As Paul writes, "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor 4:17).

Though God doesn't always promise us answers to our questions and though he may be silent on how long we must endure our present sorrow, we can trust that in our lamenting God gives us a supernatural trust to those who come before him in tears. And though we may cry out in our agony, "How long, O LORD?", we must remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, "Behold I am coming soon." (Rev 22:7)

Prayer Guide

  • What emotions and frustrations are you having with the Lord? Express them to him.
  • Ask the Lord to help you in your situation and to help you find trust in him through our sorrow.
  • Ask the Lord to give you joy and peace in light of the Gospel promises he has given you.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 8

The Psalms are not just songs, but prayers. By studying the Psalms we can learn how to better pray and engage in communion with God. Each Thursday I’ll be posting a commentary and prayer guide for the Psalms to help us learn and practice prayer. God is majestic. There is no one like him as he rules with absolute authority as King over the universe. As Psalm 8 begins it calls us into a benediction of praise over the majesty of God. Yet, as the Psalmist writes he not only sings concerning the majestic rule of God but his praise is deepened as he reflects on the majestic rule he has given humanity over creation.

There are many who think of humanity as a parasite upon the world and a cause of ecological disaster. In the eyes of a secular culture, human beings are animals of no greater value than a dog or a gnat. Human dignity and value is under attack continual today and David reminds us in the psalm of praise about the majestic rule of God who sets his loving attention on humanity and exalts humanity above the created order as his special image bearer’s.

Commentary

v. 1 - The psalm is structured using a literary device called an inclusio. The Psalm opens and closes with the same phrase, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” This inclusio functions as a structural bracket wrapping its content in its theme. In the case of Psalm 8, that theme is the majestic name of the LORD.

The beginning of the psalm directs our attention to the object of praise, the LORD himself. Anytime in the OT that you see the word ‘lord” in all capital letters, it signifies that the Hebrew refers to the very personal name of God given to Moses at the burning bush. This name is Yahweh (יְהוָ֤ה). The scribes would not even write this holy name fully out due to its sacredness. This Psalm is addressed to Yahweh who is “our Lord”. This personal pronoun emphasizes that although Yahweh is the Lord over all, he is the personal Lord to David and his people. David praises the majestic name that is above every name. He calls forth in a benediction of praise to the God of Israel.

v. 2 - God rules over all. Out of the mouth of babies and infants refers to Israel herself, God’s chosen people. God by his power has taken a weak and impotent people like Israel and has set them up over the mighty nations of the earth. God has taken that which is weak to shame the strong to prove where true strength really lies, which is not in man’s ability but in the dexterity of God’s omnipotence.

What a theme that recurs through out God’s redemptive story. God has a habit of taking the world’s values and turning them on their head. This is the very essence of the Gospel and at the very heart of our savior Jesus. In Jesus’ weakness and frailty in his crucifixion was used by God conquered to bend his pulsing strength as he conquered sin and death. It was the lowly servant Jesus whom God exalted and gave the name that is above every name (Ph 2).

v. 3–4 - David turns his attentions to thinking about man’s place in God’s world. As David lays on his back on a cool evening on the Judean plain he gazes in the thick darkness, losing himself in the grandeur of the moon and stars. God has created each of these and has put them all in their place. If we need to be reminded of our smallness all we need to do is simply look up on a clear night. The heavenly bodies remind us how tiny we really are in light of the universe.

As we live in the 21st century, certainly our understanding of our smallness is greater than David could ever have imagined. Through telescopes, satellites, and space ships we have discovered that the universe is bigger than we can even imagine. Lightyears engulf the distance between these celestial gaseous bodies. Despite all our advancement and progress we have only increased our own awareness of our smallness.

As David looks up into the sky to look at the stars, he asks a simple but pointed question, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Have you ever asked yourself that question? As we gaze upon the billions of stars and the galaxies we have yet to even discover, why would God set his attention on our galaxy in a tiny little planet called earth, and why would he choose to display his glory by loving and redeeming tiny little human beings like us? The God who put in place the expanse of the universe simply by speaking it into existence has set his attention on us. The God who is transcendent over all and who rules over all sets his attention on you and me as the object of his divine love.

Notice that David is left speechless after he asks this questions. Indeed, it is one of the unspeakable mysteries of God. Why did God choose us? Why did he set his attention on me? Why does he love us so? Especially as we consider not just our smallness but our sinfulness! We are wicked people who have rejected God and gone our own way. Rather than worshiping the creator we have worshiped his creation. We are rebels, traitors, and enemies. Yet, the creator God sets his love on us and provides an avenue for our redemption through Jesus.

Why does God do this? Sure we can come up with theological reasons such as to display the glory of God, and certainly that is true — yet God’s mindfulness of us cannot be fully explained. The most humbling truth in the universe is that God is mindful of us and cares for us.

v. 5–8 - Even though man is so small and tiny in the grand scheme of God’s creation, God has given humanity dignity, worth, significance, and dominion. Harkening back to Genesis, David reflects on how every human being is made in the image of God. God has designed humanity to reflect his own glory and praise in our life. In v. 5, David makes an astonishing claim, that God has made human beings just a little lower than God himself. Some translations say “lower than the angels” or “lower than the heavenly beings”. The hebrew text says Elohim (אֱלֹהִ֑ים) which was a generic word for God in hebrew language. The septuagint, the greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures softened the intensity of the language and says, “angels”. We can understand their impulse to do so. Did God really create us just a little lower than himself? That seems like an incredible claim! Yet, I believe that is exactly what David is teaching us here. To be made in the image of God means that we are created so uniquely and so wonderfully that we are given authority and dignity just a little lower than God himself.

God in his majestic rule over the earth delegates his rule to humanity, his vice-regents created in his image. He has “crowned him with glory and honor”. Even though we are low, we are exalted and given prestige and position over God’s creation. God has placed all things under the feet of humanity from sheep to oxen, from birds to fish, all of it is under the dominion of humanity.

This is crucial for us to remember as we live in a world who seems to be more concerned about a starving dog than an aborted human baby. To attack the sanctity of human life is to attack the image of God. Every human being at every stage of development has intrinsic value because they are crafted in the womb as God’s image bearers.

Although every human being has been made in God’s image, due to sin we are broken image bearers. We are mirrors who need to be repaired. God mends us and restores us to our original perfect design through the cross of Christ. Jesus, the new man, exemplifies true humanity. Fully God and fully man, Jesus through his death gives birth to a new people under his headship. Jesus the true Adam, the true Israel, the true David restores us to the glory and honor we were created for as we come to him in faith. God’s love for humanity runs so deep that in his love for us he provided a way for our salvation and redemption. The divine rule of God has exalted humanity and lifted us up to glory.

v. 9 - The inclusio closes as the psalm is bracketed in its primary theme, the majesty of God. Yet, now having reflected on all that God has done in his rule and through exalting humanity, the last verse has a humbling intensity to it. Why would God choose to use the weakest of humanity, the babes and infants of humanity, to make his own? Why would God take small and sinful humans and bestow them with such honor and dignity that he sets his love on us? Why would he delegates to us his divine authority over his creation? Why would God take sinful man and redeem and restore us through Jesus? As we ponder such questions we are left with but one refrain, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Prayer Guide

  • Praise God for his majestic name in how he choose the weak to shame the strong
  • Praise God for the huge and beautiful world he has made
  • Praise God for his attention on you as an object of his care and love.
  • Praise God for how he has exalted you through Jesus Christ to the praise of his glorious grace