In the last blog post we started our journey through the pattern that flows through the psalms that can help us process our pain in this fallen world, let’s continue on that journey.
4. The Psalmist processes his problem in light of God’s covenantal faithfulness.
As the psalmists go throughs their thoughts, emotions and questions, they come to the place of processing them in light of God’s covenantal faithfulness. This is an active reflection on their part as they look back on God’s faithfulness in the past through His promises, by His provision and in His presence, and that enables them to face the present with all of its pain, and the future with all of its uncertainty.
As the psalmists look back and reflect, they do this both individually and corporately. Individually their eyes are opened to see God’s covenantal faithfulness to them in how He has provided and kept His promises towards them. They remember how God saw them through challenges and difficulties before and how His promises, which they thought had failed, were proven in their pain.
We can understand this specifically for David as the author of so many of the psalms as He is a direct recipient of a covenant with God. So David’s confidence keeps coming back to the promise which God has made with him and how God will not break it. This change is seen in Psalm 13 in v.5 as David says, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love.” That phrase ‘steadfast love’ is translated in a variety of ways but in Hebrew it is the word ‘hesed’ and it is best defined as an enduring committed love. One of the best translations of the word is ‘covenantal faithfulness’ and that is grasped by thinking of how God’s relationship with His people is like a marriage bond that God in which He has promised to love them because of who He is and in spite of who they are and what they do; to love them for better, for worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health and even beyond death.
As David looks back and sees God’s unwavering commitment to him through his life which has endured through David’s trouble and his sin, he is able to see the the truth of how God has not abandoned him and that God’s promises have never failed him, rather they have sustained and saved him. It is as if David lifted an old wooden box from off the shelf, blew off the dust and opened it to find his diaries, and as he flicked through the pages he was able to trace God’s faithfulness to him in the love letters of his life. That enables him to see how God has loved him and how that love is a love that will not let him go. This is David realising the firm foundation and trustworthiness of the person who is the object of his faith, that below his faltering feet there is the rock which cannot be moved and the refuge and fortress which no army can storm and conquer.
But the looking back is not only individual it is also collective. Just as David dusts off his own diary, he also goes and unravels the scrolls of the history of God’s people and the love letter that God has composed in eternity and been revealing in history. There David gets to look back throughout the history of his people and see that not one word of God’s has failed, that God has always kept His promises to them. The focus here is primarily redemptive with a looking back to key events in Israel’s history. The Exodus features most predominantly as the defining moment in the Old Testament of God’s redemption and rescue for His people grounded in both His character and covenant.
Yet the Exodus, as powerful and as divinely demonstrative an event as that is, is not meant to be where we go to process our problem. God’s covenantal faithfulness is most fully revealed on the cross. Jesus is the ultimate demonstration and revelation of God’s unwavering commitment and dedication to His promises and the costly self sacrificial love that He freely gives to His children. It is in Jesus, by Jesus and through Jesus that we have a reason to hope and a person to trust. That happens as circumstances and situations fall away as the temporal things that they are, and salvation in Jesus is seen for the eternal thing that it is. So just as David and the psalmists looked back at the defining moment in God’s revelation up to that point of redemption, rescue, promise keeping and provision, so too we are meant to look back the pivot point of all God’s revelation as the Word becomes flesh to dwell with humanity to rescue, redeem and restore as God’s promises are kept.
What this individual and collective looking back is meant to point us to is remembering how since God has kept His promises in the past, He can be trusted to keep them in the present and for the future. The proof of that for the Christian is in how our focus has shifted from the Israelite Exodus to the eternal exodus achieved by Christ. Jesus is the ultimate expression and fulfilment of God’s hesed love and so He becomes the event and person by which we see God’s character on full display and are able to come to terms with our circumstances and the cries of ‘how long.’
Where do we see this in Psalm 13
As we read the psalm we can notice the shift that occurs in the latter two verses. There is a turning point here as David looks beyond the circumstances that he is experiencing and the emotions that are so consuming him to something else. This is the change from God being the cause of David’s discomfort, to the person who is his only hope. David’s focus here moves from looking at what he sees as God’s failure to keep His promises to God’s past faithfulness to him and to His people. That past faithfulness is what helps David process the present and look with hope to the future despite how his current circumstance may not have changed.
What does this teach us?
In this pattern of the psalms, and in Psalm 13, we are shown the danger of allowing our present circumstances and emotions to control us and make us doubt God and His promises. Though it is human to do so, the psalmists show us that the remedy for such a problem is not our instinctive reaction of running away and putting God out of sight and out of mind, but to meditate on the promises of God, to actively engage in looking back and tracing God’s faithfulness. We do that individually as we see His hand in our lives in His common grace but also in the specific grace of our salvation. Then as we do that with ourselves we can widen our gaze and see how God is not only moving within us individually but collectively in His people and the world at large. His treatment of the world and His chosen children is testimony to God’s faithfulness that fuels trust in Him in the present and for the future.
Ultimately this takes us to Jesus as in Him we see the extent that God will go to demonstrate his faithfulness and keep His promises. What better thing could there be for us to think on when doubt and despair try to destroy us than a cross, looking and seeing our Saviour gasp his last breaths, arms outstretched, showing us how far He has come and will go for us as He keeps His promises to His children.
Our lives are like ships out on the sea, one day calm and the next tempestuous, but since the day we were born on that boat the shore has always been in sight and comes closer everyday. But there are days on deck in which the fog rolls in and the shore is obscured, but the shore is still there and our course is still steady and straight. How can it be so? It is so because our Captain has travelled this way before, He knows the course and can see through the mist and fog and He will have us reach the shore no matter what. So though we may not see the shore, we can see Him and it is on Him that we must fix our eyes and trust His hands as by His Spirit He blows the sails of our lives towards His shore.
We think that the way ahead is unsure and full of peril, and it does have many dangers, but we look to one who has faced all of those things before us and come through. We look to Jesus who has made the way and is the Way and He is the reason for our hope, trust and confidence. That is why the author of Hebrews direct us to:
run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
(Hebrews 12: 1-3 ESV)
Too often we find that this world not only blinds us but that pain pushes out the memories that are saving graces to us. The psalms, and Psalm 13 in particular, teach us that grace amnesia and divine dementia have been traits of God’s people before but that there is a cure in looking to Christ and seeing Him for who He is and all He has done.
5. The Psalmist comes to see the truth and hope of God’s dedication to His promises and His people and praises God.
As the psalmists eyes are opened to God’s dedication to His promises and His people, we see how they move from despair and doubt, to confidence and hope and praise. This is the psalmist coming to see and realise who God is and what God has done, is doing and will do. It is a change of perspective despite little or no change in circumstance. This change of perspective turns into fuel, not only for getting through and surviving another day, but thriving and even praising in the midst of all of pain, however long the day and night of trouble may be.
David comes to this beautiful ending in Psalm 13 as he give reason for his praise, ‘I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me.‘ As David says the words of these last two verses he demonstrates the necessary ingredient for his hope – faith. David has trusted and has found the salvation of the Lord, but that only comes through faith, through trusting in the promises of God which are not found wanting. Faith in God is the source of the greatest comfort to be had in this world but disbelief, no faith and trust in God, is the root of the greatest sorrows, greatest discomfort and greatest dread.
The ship of history is steadily but surely on course towards its end and the Captain at its helm is the one in whom we can either put our trust and faith as He steers through storms towards the shore, or we can throw ourselves overboard to be swallowed up by the seas and sands of time to never see the shore. To trust in Jesus is to trust the author of salvation, to trust him when the fog rolls in and storms rage, to look to Him as the one who will see the ship safely to shore for us to set our feet on dry ground on the promised land.
The storms of our circumstances may cause us to think, and fear and feel that God has forgotten and abandoned us, or that He is weak or unwilling, but when we look at His unwavering, unrelenting dedication to His promises and His children in Christ and through Christ, we see our God. Our God who is strong enough to bear the heavy load of our sin, the full effects of the curse in death and come through triumphant on the other side bringing His children with Him.
The Christian reading the psalms and seeing the covenantal faithfulness of God on display has to see the bloody cross and empty tomb of Christ as the ultimate fulfilment and source of confidence and hope for God’s people. When that happens how could our hearts not turn from wallowing grief to praise as we see as Spurgeon did, that:
You may fear that the Lord has passed you by, but it is not so: He who counts the stars and calls them by name is in no danger of forgetting his own children.
Where do we see this in Psalm 13?
We see this in verses 5-6 as David comes to this great conclusion of seeing God’s grace towards him and realises that he has reason not only to live but someone to trust, something to rejoice in and a reason to sing. These final verses demonstrate the hope of God’s children and the destination they are able to come to through faith in Him.
What does this teach us?
As David realises that in His God he has someone to trust, something to rejoice and a reason to sing, we too can see that through our Saviour. Through Jesus we see that God has not treated us as our sins deserved but has lavished grace on us. Through Jesus we see that God has never abandoned us. Through Jesus we see that our God is strong and keeps His promises. Through Jesus we see “that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is [his] faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Our eyes are so often preoccupied with what is in front of us that we miss to see what is behind us, what is ahead and who is beside us. We can be so tempted to think that God has left us but Jesus destroys all thoughts like that. He frees our voices to sing, our hearts to have hope and our lives to face tomorrow. Yet that joy is for God’s children, for those who have placed their trust in Him. Though all of us may hear and cry the howls of ‘how long’ in our lives, only those of us in faith and relationship with Jesus can know how they have been and will one day be fully and finally silenced because of God’s dedication to His promises. God’s dedication to His promises and His character, means that He will stand on every promise of His Word for peace and eternal shalom for His children and judgement and punishment for those rebels who reject Him.
This pattern of the psalms is almost the pattern of everyday as we wake up into a world feeling the force of its fallenness and as we face another new day of trouble. In that trouble we cry out to God and question His character but as we think on His grace and His blessings towards us we find that God has been and is good and His faithfulness fuels us to face today and tomorrow.
David, like Job, asks many searching and raw questions of God and, like Job, in human terms David gets no answer; there is no date in the diary entered for when the trouble will cease and when the ‘how longs’ will end. God is right and good in not giving such answers because in His shepherding wisdom He knows how we could never cope if we knew everything before us, particularly if the length of the ‘how longs’ was longer than we ever could have imagined. In that case the burden would be too great and it would crush us and so God withholds the knowledge in His wisdom and grace. His withholding is also a teaching grace as He wants our hearts to be set on trusting Him for today and for tomorrow and for eternity no matter what our circumstances. He wants hearts of dependance set on Him, trusting Him and His promises.
So the answer that God gives to David and us, like Job’s, is better than anything temporal that time could offer even if it gave us relief from the unrelenting of pain of this life. God doesn’t offer a timeframe with an end date, but gives us the greatest gift of Himself, the divine and eternal God who came to walk through this world as one of us, die for us and stay close by us through His Spirit as He brings us home.
What God gives to his servant David, is what God gives to all of His children by faith in His Son, He gives himself and there is no worthier person to trust, no greater source of rejoicing, and no better reason to sing.
Thanks for taking the time to read these blogs, if you want to continue to meditate on Psalm 13 here is a booklet that you could use to think and pray through it’s powerful words.