Psalms 12–14: The Afflicted & The Psalms

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 5: Wednesday

But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
Psalm 13:5 LSB

Today’s Bible reading is Psalms 12–14. All three are psalms of David.

David never spoke of suffering merely for poetic drama. In Psalm 12 when he wrote of lying men, the afflicted being devastated, the needy longing for safety; David had been lied to, he had been devastated and afflicted, he had longed for safety. In Psalm 13 when he asked God if He would forget him forever, when he asked God how long his enemy would triumph over him; he suffered; he felt forgotten. In Psalm 14 when David spoke of Yahweh being the refuge of the afflicted; he was afflicted, and he had found Yahweh to be his refuge.

Nor did David always write after the fact: after he had been delivered, after his enemies had been defeated, after he was safe. Many of his psalms were written when he was afraid, surrounded, devastated, right then and there, and his psalms were his cries and prayers to God in that moment of distress (see Psalm 52:1, 54:1, 57:1, 59:1, 142:1). They are powerful, and God gives us great comfort and real help through them.

Derek Kidner’s comments on Psalm 13:3–4, give insight into all of David’s psalms:

“Whether verse 3 means that illness was the cause of the effect of this low-ebb in David’s affairs, these two verses show what were the two poles of his world: God, but for whom life would be insupportable, and the enemy, because of whom any wavering (4b) must be unthinkable. Aware­ness of God and the enemy is virtually the hallmark of every psalm of David; the positive and negative charge which produced the driving force of his best years.”1

When I read these Psalms for a post twelve years ago, I was in a time of deep distress and wrote, “How long, O LORD?” I said, “Tonight these psalms reflect how I feel. I am stunned sometimes at the psalms that God included in His Word. Psalm 13 is one of them.”

There are times when we feel as David felt and as we look around we find no one to comfort or we find only those who will judge or attack. Those are the times when we desperately need David’s words—to be able to open our Bible and see that the man who was called a man after God’s own heart knew the exhaustion and affliction and loneliness that we feel—to be able to open our Bible and find that God included words that express the horrors that our own heart knows. In the midst of bearing up under the inscrutability of suffering, God gives us words and in David we find a voice for our pain.

In his psalms, David leads us to who God is. In his pain, he reminds himself, and us, who God is. Through his psalms, God keeps us from sin, as we are brought face to face with the living God who can be trusted, upon whom we can rely, and who is a refuge for us in whatever our circumstances may be. When you read his psalms, watch for turning points within them as he begins to write about God, as in Psalm 12:5, Psalm 13:5, and Psalm 14:2.

Psalm 13 is a psalm begins in anguish. How long, O Yahweh? Will You forget me forever? David would have known this was not true, but the words reflect someone who has suffered, not just for a day, but for many days and nights, and feels worn to the bone in a war of attrition.

M’Caw and Motyer write,

“The words How long…for ever? are a question wherein hope and despair pursue each other in closed circle (cf. Ps. 74:10; 79:5). The four aspects of sorrow are: a sense of being forsaken by God who has forgotten him; the hopelessness of one who cannot get through to a God who continually hides himself away; ceaseless inner hurt and grief; and defeat at the hands of vaunting foes. These are not unconnected experiences, for to be out of touch with God brings the personality to the point of breakdown and leaves us at the mercy of foes, human and spiritual…

“Despairing need gives way to prayer in which each necessity is laid before God. Even when God appears to have forsaken him, the psalmist’s faith holds firm…First, in respect to the averted face of God, he pleads Consider (lit. ‘look’) and answer, and the depth of his faith is revealed in his continuing grasp of the personal relationship expressed in the words my God…Second, he reveals the nature of his confessed inner grief, the fear lest he should die uncomforted by any sense of God’s favour…Third, he prays against continuing humiliation before his foes.

“…The sober reflections and strong appeals of vv. 1-4 give place to the fundamental attitude and disposition of his heart. But I; i.e. ‘as for me, I do trust in Thee’. My heart shall rejoiceI will sing. His despondency is changed to confidence as his faith lays hold on four characteristics of the Lord: His steadfast love, His delivering intervention, His readiness to give that which truly delights men, and His abounding goodness to the very man who had been restless. This irrepressible hope, always clarified and crystallized by prayer is one of the constant features of the Psalter [the book of Psalms] (cf. also 1 Cor. 15:19; Heb. 6:18, 19).”2

Alec Motyer points out,

“Notice how four ‘how longs; (vv. 1–2) were followed by three ‘in cases’ (vv. 3–4), and now by two exultations (vv. 5–6). By progressively narroinwg its focus in this way, the Psalm lays sharp emphasis on the last two verses—the delight and the song that follow from taking the nature of Yahweh’s love into account and adopting a clear position of trust.”3

Read Psalm 13, and let David’s words become your prayer when you hurt too much to pray.

How long, O Yahweh? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
and answer me, O Yahweh my God;
Give light to my eyes, lest I sleep the
sleep of death,
Lest my enemy says, “I have overcome him,”
And my adversaries rejoice that I am shaken.
But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to Yahweh,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
Psalm 13 LSB

As I was writing these, verses in Isaiah 49 came to mind. Whatever your circumstances, God has not, and will never, forget you.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands;
your walls are continually before Me.”
Isaiah 49:15–16 RCO4

Raymond Ortland, Jr. has these words of encouragement,

“And God is saying that he will never abandon his family. Never. His love is more mindful than even the love of a tenderly nursing mother. God is love (1 John 4:8–10).

“The imagery of [Isaiah 49] verse 16 suggests a vision of God spreading out his hands before us, so that we can see our very names engraved there. Have we thought through how profoundly loved we are by God?”5

J. I. Packer writes,

“What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that He knows me. I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when His care falters.

“This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love, and watching over me for my good…how much it means to know, not merely that we know God, but that He knows us.”6

Charles Spurgeon preached with compassion,

“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you.”…Even so does Jesus Christ love you, my believing brother, my believing sister. Note that he loves you; it is not only that he did love you, and died for you, but he still loves you. He says to you, individually, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” Look at the nail-print, that is his memorial, his forget-me-not, and by it he says to thee, —

“Forget thee I will not, I cannot, thy name
Engraved on my heart doth for ever remain:
The palms of my hands whilst I look on I see
The wounds I received when suffering for thee.”7

Cry out to God and let David’s words be your words. Ask God to help you. Trust in His lovingkindness.

For a brief overview of the structure and poetry of Psalms see my post, The Five Books of Psalms.
Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
RayNata, Miedo ajeno: Public Domain.
Forget-me-not, stained glass window at coroner’s court at London Road Fire Station, Manchester: Delusion23. (CC BY-SA 4.0). Cropped.
1Derek Kidner, Psalm 1–72 (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1973) 77–78.
2Leslie S. M’Caw, J. A. Motyer, “Psalms,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 458–459.
3Alec Motyer, Psalms By The Day: A New Devotional Translation (Christian Focus Publications Ltd, Ross-shire, Scotland, U.K. 2016) 38.
4,5Raymond C. Ortland, Jr., Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (Crossway Books, Wheaton IL: 2005) 329. This is Ortland’s translation of Isaiah 49:15–16. Alec Motyer also translates inscribed in Isaiah 49:16 as engraved. See Alec Motyer, Isaiah By The Day: A New Devotional Translation (Christian Focus Publications Ltd, Scotland, U.K.: 2011) 242.
6J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973) 37.
7Charles Spurgeon, “Love’s Vigilance Rewarded,” October 7, 1877, Scripture: Song of Solomon 3:4, From: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Volume 42. Spurgeon quotes from the hymn, “O Zion, Afflicted With Wave Upon Wave,” which can be sung to the tune, St. Denio, which is also the tune to “Immortal, Invisible, Only Wise God.” Spurgeon quoted this stanza “O Zion, Afflicted,” in at least two other sermons. See his sermon which takes its title from the hymn, “Forget Thee, I will Not,” and “A Glorious Church.” See also Spurgeon’s sermon on Isaiah 49:16, “God’s Memorial of His People.”
At Precept Austin, Dr. Bruce Hart has a wonderful page on being engraved on God’s hands: Isaiah 49:16-Inscribed on His Hands. I found part of the Packer and Spurgeon quotes there. I added to the Packer quote from his book, Knowing God, and found Spurgeon’s sermon online. Hart includes excerpts from several hymns about our names being engraved on God’s hands and God never forgetting us.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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