How Long O Lord
How Long, Lord?
I am abandoned by God and man
Voltaire, the French Enlightenment philosopher, was stridently opposed to Christianity. In some ways he was the forerunner of the militant atheists we hear so much from today. For example, Voltaire once wrote to King Frederik of Prussia, describing Christianity as assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd, and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world.
His writings about the Bible and the God who reveals himself in the Scriptures, were in much the same vein, and so perhaps it’s no surprise, that Voltaire’s last words as he lay dying, were “I am abandoned by God and man.”
“I am abandoned by God and man.”
We might say, that his life has led him to feel that way.
Entirely understandable, we might think, for the militant atheist to sense that on his deathbed, But how ought God’s man or God’s woman, someone who loves God and is Word, respond when they feel, that they’ve been abandoned by God. Well, in Psalm 13, David presents himself as a case study of that question;, this feeling of being abandoned by God.
David cries out in abandonment
Clearly this sense of abandonment leaves David in serious anguish, We know it’s David who wrote is this Psalm, because the title tells us. And the titles in the Psalms are actually part of the Bible text.
The paragraph headings in other parts of the Bible, are just made up and put in at various points by the different Bible publishers to help us find our place. But the Bible text here tells us who’s writing.
It’s David, king of Israel, and we’ll see in a few minutes why it’s so important for us to get this right.
But feel the heartache.
1 How long, LORD?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
What does he feel?
That God has forgotten him,
And that God’s face is turned away.
Now, when we talk about forgetting, we generally mean “not having a piece of information right at the forefront of our minds.”
But in the Old Testament, this language of forgetting, is not so much about information in my mind, but about not taking action, and therefore the opposite, to remember, is all about taking action.
So just a week or so ago it was our wedding anniversary.
Imagine on the day, 22nd of December!, Kathy asked me, “Did you remember that today is our wedding anniversary?”
And I said, “Yes, I remembered”, and then just kept on doing whatever I was doing.
That is not really the kind of remembering that is expected is it?
To remember something like that means to act!
To say “Happy anniversary”,
To make a cup of tea,
Breakfast in bed, whatever it is. I’m not going to prescribe how you ought to celebrate your anniversary!
But that kind of remembering, is the first step in a sequence of actions.
That’s the kind of remembering that David wants, but what he feels, is that God has forgotten.
It’s not that God’s trying to rack his brain, “Who’s David, again? The name rings a bell, but I just can’t quite pick the face. Something about a giant, ”
No, David’s saying, “God you’ve forgotten, you’re not giving me the help, you could give.”
And it’s exactly the same with David’s sense of God hiding his face.
What David longs for, is the opposite of that. He wants God to see him. But not just to see, for photons to arrive at the photon receptors on God’s retina, if that were true.
To see is to act, to bless.
Flick back with me, in your Bibles, to Numbers chapter 6. Page 138 of the blue church Bibles.
Numbers 6, beginning at verse 22, God gives an instruction for how the priests are to pronounce God’s blessing on the people:
22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
24 “ ‘ “The Lord bless you
and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.” ’
David knew that for Gods’ face to be turned towards him, meant blessing,
But at this point in his life, and we don’t know what the specific context is, but David feels that God’s presence and God’s action have been absent for quite some time.
I have a book on my shelf, called “Where is God when it hurts?”
It’s a question lots of us have asked, isn’t it?
Although, it’s a slight variation of that question that David asks, isn’t it? He wouldn’t have used the name of that book on my shelf to title his Psalm.
What David wants to know is How long?!
4 times in the opening 2 verses, this cry is repeated, How Long?
Charles Spurgeon, the famous Baptist preacher once called this the “howling Psalm”, because of the repeated cry “how long, how long?”
David feels alone,
All he’s got are his own thoughts, verse 2, and they’re not particularly helping him.
How long, Lord? Is it going to be forever?
When am I going to be aware once more, of your blessing?
And I think we can fairly safely say that there are many among us, who have asked this question, too; How long, Lord?
When am I going to see you in action?
When am I going to know your presence?
How long until you do something about those people who just long to triumph over me? Verse 2.
We experience life like this in a broken world
This cry, is a common cry from God’s people, living in a broken world.
There are times when we don’t see God’s hand at work,
When we don’t see him working his purposes out in the way that we hope for.
There are times when it looks like those who oppose us, our enemies will triumph over us.
“You can’t always get what you want” the Rolling Stones told us way back in 1969,
King David sang that a long time before the Stones.
Here is God’s king, his chosen leader, One who was given the gift of God’s Spirit in an age where that wasn’t the privilege of all of God’s people.
Here is David, described as “a man after God’s own heart”, and his experience of living for God, includes these moments.
And they’re not just isolated moments, are they?
1 How long, Lord?
Will you forget me forever?
day after day, I have sorrow in my heart
Even if it weren’t made plain elsewhere in the Bible, probably these words, Psalm 13, would be enough, to make it clear that the experience of being God’s man or God’s woman in a world that is out of step with its creator, is not always an easy.
If the anointed king of God’s people could feel like this,
If the one described in those glowing terms, “after God’s own heart”, if this was his experience of life?
Why should we think our life should be any different?
Have I read the situation rightly?
But when we feel that this cry of abonnement reflects our own experience, there are a few things that I think are worth thinking about.
When we feel this is our experience, some of us will wonder, have I read this situation rightly?
It’s worth asking ourselves, is God really hiding his face from me?
Am I really alone?
Or if I were to be honest, is it more a case, of “things aren’t going the way I want”
I feel alone, I feel that God’s turned his back on me, because God isn’t giving me, what I think I need.
I’m not hearing the message that I want to hear, therefore God’s not speaking.
I’ve had a number of conversations with people who tell me “None of my Christian friends are supporting me”, in some decision they’re trying to make.
And when I try and unravel it a little with them, actually it turns out they’re being given an enormous amount of support, it’s just that every wise and mature Christian they speak to advises, one particular course of action, but the person themselves has already decided on the other.
“I’m all alone, no one is with me!”
No, you’re just not getting what you want.
You would want to be very sure of yourself, wouldn’t you, before saying to God, “you have abandoned me,
You have hidden yourself from me”
“Have I read the situation rightly?”
Good question to ask in those moments when this seems to be our experience.
Am I suffering the consequences of sin?
For others of us though, in those times when we feel like we know exactly what David’s going through, perhaps the first question that comes to mind is, am I suffering the consequences of some sin?
Is there a real breakdown in the fellowship I enjoy with God, because I’ve broken fellowship with God through my sin and rebellion?
Deliberately pursuing a path apart from God does put a blockage in our fellowship and relationship with God.
We saw in our Extravagant Promises teaching series last year, the call to Christian people, caught up in sin, to draw near to God, to submit to God and his rule, so that fellowship and relationship can be restored.
And some of us, when we feel that Psalm 13 is our experience, our first thought will be, “Is there some sin that has crept in?”
And there may be.
And we would need to deal with that sin appropriately.
But notice here, there is no particular sin on view.
We know there are other Psalms, where the breakdown in relationship with God is a direct result of sin.
Just not here.
There’s no evidence of any particular sin that’s put David outside the realm of God’s blessing.
He doesn’t confess his failures, and ask God to restore the relationship.
David just knows that sometimes this is the experience of God’s people.
There are times when it looks like God is far away,
Times when it seems like those who oppose us will triumph over us.
When this is not our experience
But there is also a sense in which, as familiar as elements of this Psalm might be to us, this isn’t our experience.
It’s very easy, perhaps in the Psalms more than anywhere else in the Bible, for us to immediately read ourselves into the text, and imagine that what the author is describing is entirely our situation.
As I say it seems to be more of a trap for us in the Psalms than elsewhere in the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul’s reflections on his hardship, in 2 Corinthians 11, Five times I received, the forty lashes minus one
We tend not to directly compare that to our experience,
We say “That was Paul, we’re in a different situation.”
And yet with the Psalms, it’s very easy for us to jump to the conclusion, that it all applies directly to us, in exactly the same manner
But remember this is a Psalm of David.
He was God’s anointed king.
And the king’s job was to exercise God’s authority, under God.
A vice-regent we could say. A bit like how the Governor General represents the Queen’s rule and authority here in Australia.
The Governor General is a bit more symbolic and ceremonial, whereas the king of Israel really did exercise God’s own authority in leading the people.
The king fought God’s enemies,
The king upheld the law that God had given.
If you opposed the king, it meant you were opposing God
If you said “the person who legitimately exercises God’s authority is my enemy”, you were by extension saying, “God is my enemy.”
And actually, if you look at the Psalms of David collected for us in the book of Psalms, nearly all of them have these twin points of focus, God, and those who oppose God, and demonstrate that opposition by opposing his rightful king.
Which all means that in verse 4, when David says, “God, if you don’t do something here, then my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
The picture is not just of one man being overcome by his enemies.
But, and you can see the significance, can’t you, it would be the picture of God’s anointed king, being brought low by his enemies,
The one who guards and protects God’s people, being overcome.
Now, I’m not aware that I have any particular enemies. If I’m mistaken on that, perhaps you need to come and talk to me!
But actually I know that some of us here would very much have people we would put in that category;,
People who have deliberately set out to cause you distress,
And it’s entirely appropriate for us to cry out to God, for relief from those people,
But we must to remember, that someone opposing us, is not the same thing as someone opposing God’s king.
And of course, even more significantly, if you’re a Christian person here this morning,
That is if you’re someone who’s trusting in Jesus for forgiveness and reconciliation with God, this abandonment and desolation that David feels so keenly, is not something you will ever know.
Did you realise that as we read it through?
Did you do a little edit in your head, as we read, a Christian interpretation of the Psalm?
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? No!
How long will you hide your face from me? Well that’s something I’m never going to experience!
How long will my enemy triumph over me, Well, no, our greatest enemies have been defeated.
It was true once, wasn’t it?
There was one for whom this was entirely accurate.
The abandonment and isolation that David feared, was absolutely the experience of Jesus on the cross. In fact, the eye-witnesses record for us that on the cross Jesus quoted from another Psalm, Psalm 22, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Isolation from God is real.
Isolation, separation from God is the result of sin and rebellion against God.
And as Jesus hangs in our place, taking the punishment for our sin, he is separated, isolated, abandoned, by God his Father.
He was abandoned, so that we need never be,
So that our sin, which necessarily keeps us from God, could be taken away,
And so we live in the age, after the cross, after the price for sin has been paid, once and for all, and now God dwells with his people by his Spirit.
If you’re a Christian,
If you trust in Jesus’ death to take away your sin,
Then you have God’s Spirit dwelling within you.
You can not,
Can never possibly experience, isolation from God.
Whatever turmoil you find yourself in,
What ever opposition you face, for being God’s person in your context,
However much it might feel, that God has left us entirely alone, and I will grant you, sometimes life can feel like that for many of us, But you will never know the isolation from God that David fears here, because Jesus endured it for you.
That is a very important distinction, and a great comfort, to remember.
David prays for God’s action
But David prays for God to reverse is situation.
Let’s look at the middle section, David’s prayer, from verse 3,
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
David prays to the God he knows
Notice how David describes the God to whom he prays. Look on me and answer, LORD, my God.
He uses God’s personal name, Yahweh, that’s what’s behind the word Lord all in capital letters.
That’s the name by which God made himself known to the people he had brought into relationship with himself.
David is showing his covenant membership badge.
He’s saying, “I am one of these people you have drawn into relationship,
And because I know you, I have confidence to ask for you to act.
You might have heard people pray, something like “God, if you’re out there somewhere, ”
Or maybe you remember that novel from the 70s, “Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret?”
Are you there God?
There’s no such wondering for David is there?
David cries out to the God who he knows, who has established a covenant relationship with him, and with his people.
Notice also that David speaks of the Lord, my God.
Even in the midst of this hardship, David’s relationship with God is intensely personal, my God.
This is the God David knows, and so he cries out in prayer.
Which for me, raises the question, when we feel like this is our experience, Do we cry out to God?
Do we ask God to act, or, when things are going badly for us, is asking God to act the very last thing on our mind?
One scholar I read this week noted that “lament is pointless, unless it culminates in prayer”
Well, it’s easy for us to lament, isn’t it, but does it culminate in prayer?
Maybe we think that our situation is outside God’s control,
Maybe we’re not really sure if God is there, like Margaret in the novel.
Perhaps we think the best solution to our troubles is one we come up with ourselves, so we don’t even bother asking God to act.
Whatever the case, I think it is easy for us, to lament, and lament, and lament, but never actually get to prayer,
Never ask God to act.
The second thing that this makes we wonder about for us, and we’ve seen that David’s situation isn’t exactly parallel to ours, but we can still feel like this, but the other question this raises is, do we know God?
David calls on God by his personal name,
He calls him my God.
And I wonder if that level of relationship, intimacy, is reflected in our prayers.
In our family, our 3 kids have nicknames that we call them. And it’s not that no one else is allowed to call the kids by those names, it’s just that Kathy and I know our kids so well, those are the names we use.
That’s really the sense of God’s personal name, Yahweh,
It’s God’s family name, it’s the name that he gave to his family, so they that they could know him.
Is that how you feel, as you approach God and ask him to act?
Or do you feel the need to kind of introduce yourself.
“Hi God, it’s aah, Clayton here,
Remember me? I live in Littlehampton, wife and 3 kids, I work at that church!”
The thing is, as those who live in the days since the life, and death and resurrection of Jesus, we don’t just know God by his old covenant name Yahweh,
We know God as the one who has made himself known in the person of Jesus Christ.
We just celebrated at Christmas, Immanuel, . God with us.
A person’s relationship with God, in the days since Christ’s death and resurrection, is infinitely deeper,
Infinitely more personal, than in David’s day.
There is no reason at all, why our prayers shouldn’t reflect this level of personal knowledge and intimacy, raised several degrees.
David’s example encourages us to pray to the God we know.
David prays for God’s action in his own life
But notice also, when God seems hidden, as well as asking God to Look on me and answer, David expects that part of God’s looking and answering, will involve God working a change in David’s own life.
Did you see it there?
He prays, Give light to my eyes
Now, at the most basic level, this just a general prayer for restoration.
This language carries the sense of God giving joy,
Even, sometimes a sense of healing.
We might talk of somebody’s eyes brightening, it’s the same kind of idea.
But this prayer that God would Give light to my eyes also has a slightly more literal sense, something more like “God, help me see straight!”
When it’s dark, we can’t see very well.
In the dark it’s easy to make a mistake.
It’s easy to see things that aren’t there, and to fail to see, what really is there.
With the terrible loss of the Indonesia Air Asia jet this week, on the day the plane went missing, the search was called off, as evening came. It was getting dark.
But of course all the armchair critics, were up in arms!
“Why call off the search? There’s a plane missing, they should still be looking for it!”
But when it’s dark, you can’t see!
David is praying, “give me light, so that I can see rightly,
In the dark, I might have missed something,
God might have been in action all along, but I couldn’t see him,
Don’t let me miss, or mistake, what you are doing in the world, what you are doing for me.
You see those photos of movie star’s dressing rooms, and there’s lights all around the mirror. Why? So they can see themselves as they really are.
For some of us, being able to see ourselves that clearly is a scary thought, but that’s what David prays
Give light to my eyes is a prayer, that God would shape David’s own understanding and perception, so he can see things as they truly are.
My prayers, and maybe this is true of you, I’m not going to assume, but my prayers are much more likely to be: change this, rather than change me.
Friends, we ought to be praying this.
Asking God to help us see things as they truly area.
David rejoices in God’s salvation (even if he can’t see it)
And it seems that here is a prayer, that God is only too willing to answer.
No sooner has David prayed, Look on me, and answer, take action in the world and in me, The words are barely off his lips, when the very change David longs for arrives.
Listen to the perspective he arrives at in verses 5 and 6,
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
Now as God answers his prayer, David is able to say what he knows to be true, and he emphasises the I, in the original.
I trust in your unfailing love.
This is who I am.
I am one who trusts in God.
We’ve seen that this Psalm falls into 3 neat sections.
In the original language, the first stanza is made up of 5 lines,
The second section 4 lines,
And this 3rd section, 3 lines.
It doesn’t carry over exactly in our English poetry, but it reflects an overwhelming sense of chaos at the beginning,
Then there’s the prayer that becomes increasingly calm as we move through it,
And we arrive finally at a short and simple statement of faith in God, and contented response.
It’s a bit like someone’s thrown a rock into a pond, and right in the middle, where the disturbance is, there’s upheaval and disorder, but as you move away from that disruption, the ripples die down, until there’s nothing.
Feel the calm descend, as David directs our attention, and his own attention, away from the chaos and opposition, and back to God.
Specifically David’s confidence lies in what God has done in the past.
It’s God’s action in the past, that gives him reason to sing in the present and the future.
I trust in your unfailing love, the fact that your love has never failed in the past, is reason enough for me to trust in you in this situation.
What do they say when you conduct job interviews? The best predictor of future performance, is past performance. The way to work out if someone can do the job you want them to do, is to look at what kind of job they’ve done in the past.
Well David’s sitting across the interview table from God, saying, “past performance? Tick!”
I can trust in that,
my heart rejoices in your salvation, both the salvation that God has won in the past, and the salvation David knows, God will bring in the future, even if he doesn’t see that salvation right now.
David trusts in God’s track record.
See, it’s really important that we notice something here.
At what point in the Psalm do the enemies get wiped out?
In which verse is David’s heart emptied, of all its sorrows?
When are David’s thoughts, those one with which he must wrestle day and night, when are they taken from him?
They’re not, are they?
None of those things happen within the context of this Psalm, and in fact David faced opposition, and was persecuted by his enemies, pretty much all his life.
Now God may have destroyed all the enemies who were giving David grief here,
He might have convinced David of his presence with him, by just pouring out countless blessing upon him,
The fact is, there’s just no suggestion of that at all in the Psalm.
And actually I’m quite sure we’re supposed to realise that most likely all those struggles and disappointments are still there for David.
But David points us not to the quality of his faith, or the cracks and imperfections within it,
He points us to the object of his faith.
And the appropriate response is to sing the praises of his God.
Verse 6, 6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has answered my prayer in the way that I wanted?, new car, new job, new relationship?
for he has taken away every doubt, removed every stumbling block?
for he has given me the life I always wanted?
I wonder how we would most naturally finish the sentence in verse 6 What is it that actually makes us sing God’s praise?
But what does David say?
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
Good, is a bit of a bland word isn’t it?
Isn’t it the teenager’s word? Something amazing happens, you ask a teenager how it was? “good” ! It doesn’t seem to capture quite enough, does it?!
The word in the original language has a sense of completeness. And some of the older Bible translations used the phrase “he has dealt bountifully with me”!
That captures something more, doesn’t it?
I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has given me, completeness.
He has withheld nothing, that we need.
It’s little wonder that, a thousand years or so later, a man named Peter, one of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life,
One of those to whom Jesus entrusted God’s own words, Peter could say, of God, His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
Let me paraphrase, in the gospel of Jesus, passed down from Peter and the other eye-witnesses, in the gospel God has given us everything we need for life and godliness.
The message of Jesus crucified, the great and precious promises, is the means by which we experience blessing and relationship.
Friends, we can say, the Lord has been good to us.
He has given us completeness.
I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has given me completeness.
You might not consider yourself much of a singer, but it is right for you to sing the Lord’s praise.
We’re going to do it in just a moment. I hope you will join in with all your heart, certain that you lack nothing.
Poor old Voltaire. Those words on his deathbed were really just the climax of everything else he’d said in his life. Earlier on, he wrote Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.
If only he’d read Psalm 13.