“MUSINGS WHILE IN THE HOLD”
MUSINGS CONCERNING THE SUFFERING AND THE MISERY
Miseries: Fourfold, How Long?
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. (Ps. 13).
In the opening phrases of this Psalm, we see the crushing devastation that has overwhelmed the man after God’s own heart. One would have thought that the great seeker of Jehovah would never have seen days of such extensive spiritual torture. These cries of frightful distress are not the beginning of sorrows, but are the result of long and laborious months of frustrated and continual pleadings for deliverance. “How long O Lord!”
If one has never experienced such feelings of spiritual abandonment, he cannot begin to calculate the horror of being left by himself. Some may ask “how long” without real reasons, but to the royal sufferers, Christ Jesus being the epitome of them all, this sentence is the last straw. This is the “My God, My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46).
It is truly difficult to comfort one in great grief (Ps. 77:2), especially when a love has been taken from them. Time will lessen the extent of the pain and make it less unbearable. However, such is not possible, nor can it ever be, when the one whose absence they are howling over is the very God.
It is not possible for the elect to be forgotten of God, not even in the minutest instances of time or eternity. These questions from the Psalmist, however, were not the mind and heart of the faithful and merciful Lord and Master, but the aching and failing constitution of one who had been tried to such powerful limits that the words of truth were a seeming contradiction, and the only vent was that inner roar – how long?
It is now the spiritual man starving for parental affection, hoping that the Father of all mercy, grace, and comfort will read with perfection the anguish that has brought the purchased possession to absolute misery.
“How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord?” is a fair and reasonable question by one who would rather be forgotten by the whole world than be set aside only for a moment by the glorious Godhead. If men were to forget us in many cases that would be a great blessing, especially if they forgot our sins and failures. Such is not the case, however, concerning them. They remember the evil and exult over us daily. Their theoretical triumph could be borne with ease if the believer could only sense the Lord’s favor, but the only thing felt is misery and His continued absence.
“Oh, if I could but creep one foot, or half a foot, nearer in to Jesus, in such a dismal night as that when he is away, I should think it a happy absence! If I knew that the beloved were only gone away for trial, and further humiliation, and not smoked out of the house with new provocations, I would forgive desertions and hold my peace at his absence. But Christ’s bought absence (that I bought with my sin), is two running boils at once, one upon each side; and what side then can I lie on?” (Samuel Rutherford).
“… for ever?” If we see a child slip away in death, it is by grace accepted in time and acknowledged as good because God brought it to pass. Death is common to all, and all will one day die. The problem that was facing the Psalmist, and every other saint that is acquainted with the promises of God, however, is that His declarations are that He never will forsake, forget, or leave us comfortless. The deceased love one we knew is gone and never did the departed make any statement of returning. God on the other hand has promised by immutable truth time and time again to be our Rock, defense, shield, deliverance, protector, comforter, guide and complete salvation. Admonitions by the pages teach us as much and bid us to call upon Him at all times and He will, is His promise, strengthen our heart and deliver us from all fear, trouble, confusion, and distress. When these promises and hopes of the same are for a long time deferred, it truly makes the heart sick. A short time without the fellowship and spiritual comfort of the Lord quite naturally to the hungering supplicant seems like forever. With ease we should be able to concede that when the tried saint thinks in terms of forever, with respect to God’s perceived absence; it is a great deal exaggerated. The merciful God and Father calls it a small moment. “For a small moment I have forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.” (Is. 54:7).
“. . . how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?” It would appear as if David found, by God’s grace, a little composure. This statement is more to the point. Our Father for holy and necessary reasons does at times seem to hide from the objects of His eternal affection.
The hiding of Jehovah’s face has a discovering effect upon the true seekers. If there has never been a spiritual witness within of His favored countenance, it surely will not be missed when it is gone. These deep groans of pitiful agony are only possible to those who God has struck with such a profound hunger for His intimate fellowship, a grieving disdain for their deplorable iniquities, and a strong contempt for the habitual returning adamic tendencies. Few there are that can give better than an elementary definition of David’s open and oozing loneliness. C. H. Spurgeon said it best when he made the following observation:
It is in love that his face is turned away; yet to a real child of God, this hiding of his Father’s face is terrible, and he will never be at ease until once more he hath his Father’s smile… And what if there be some impatience mingled therewith; is not this the more true a portrait of our own experience? It is not easy to prevent desire from degenerating into impatience. O for grace that, while we wait on God, we may be kept from indulging a murmuring spirit!” (The Treasury of David, by C.H. Spurgeon).
The applause and praise of the whole world are of little value to those who regard such correctly. They are vanity and a bloodless substitute which cannot satisfy for a moment the appetite God has created. The hunger is so rigorously amplified by Deity that all else offered is but dust and will not assuage the divine craving. Only a return of the Father’s favor will satisfy. Until then, the Psalmist’s disease is incurable.
“How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?” Even the most illustrious saint left to himself is as indecisive and confused as are the ignorant. Take counsel in his heart all he will, the answers are all the same. It is like a complex puzzle with most of the pieces missing. All the answers are wrong. David had learned that “without God he could receive nothing.” (Jn. 3:27). He also sadly found that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9).
Taking counsel in the soul will drive us in every direction and cause us to surmise things that are so alien to the truth of God that once enlightened, we will shutter at such wild extremes. Yet, is not this a mirrored reflection of just what we are when the Lord hides His face and is silent with His people? We add to our sorrow daily and badger our own miserable condition. Again, note the helpful nugget from Mr. Spurgeon.
There is in the original the idea of “laying up” counsels in his heart, as if his devices had become innumerable but unavailing. Herein we have often been like David, for we have considered and reconsidered day after day, but have not discovered the happy device by which to escape from our trouble . . . This is like wormwood in the gall, to see the wicked enemy exulting while our soul is bowed down within us. The laughter of a foe grates horribly upon the ears of grief. For the devil to make mirth of our misery is the last ounce of our complaint, and quite breaks down our patience: therefore let us make it one chief argument in our plea with mercy. (The Treasury of David, by C.H. Spurgeon).
“. . . how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?” The enemy cannot in reality exult or triumph over the elect without prevailing against God . . . “O Lord, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee.” (2 Chron. 14:11). For a time, however, for our benefit, God is pleased to use the enemy to chastise and persecute His children and drive them to a complete dependence upon Him. No longer than He has decreed, no shorter than His children need – God’s way is perfect.
A sound definition of the spiritual torment suffered by the believer in waiting is described by another with distinct clarity. “The intenseness of the affliction renders it trying to our fortitude; but it is by the continuance of it that patience is put to the test. It is not under the sharpest, but the longest trials, that we are most in danger of fainting.” (Andrew Fuller).
“Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;” The miserable and dejected saint cannot keep his frantic heart and mind from provoking suggestions which he surmises will sooner or later take him to the grave. Relieve me now, please Oh! God, least I sleep the sleep of death.
One of the earmarks of true conversion is adherence to God as all in all regardless of the greatness of the adversity. Here in Psalm 13, David is thoroughly convinced that God alone is his only hope. It is the same inspiration which caused Job, while in great affliction to declare “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him . . .” (Job 13:15).
These convictions are conspicuously not natural, and are not seen in those who halt between two opinions. In the Psalmist we can perceive that he would have been disappointed, and perhaps even offended, if deliverance was received without the obvious intervention of Jehovah the Almighty. David wanted the enemies to see the glory of God in his mighty deliverance.
Most often God is pleased to bring about victory for His people by what is commonly called by many as the ordinary outflow of events. The saved have no problem in acknowledging God in this type of deliverance, but unbelievers often miss God’s wonder and greatness in such a transaction. David wanted more than relief from the hawkish torment, he desired as much, even more, that God would force the haughty enemy to concede that God alone delivered him. In short, he wanted the adversary to admit that “David’s God – is God!”
“Consider and hear me,” consider me on the basis of your eternal covenant. Not on any merit of man, nor any supposed goodness in the future, but rather consider me as the vessel who most needs your undeserved mercy and grace. For your own honor and glory, consider and hear me. David hoped only in the perfect and faithful everlasting mercies of God. He knew that without question, none other could with effectual results take pity on him, lighten his burdens, and deliver him from grief so great that to die would be better than to live if God remained obscure and absent.
“Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.” The Lord’s enemies should be the enemies of the believer. The believer can be assured that his enemies are the enemies of the Lord. Touching one of His beloved in a harmful way is the same as poking a stick in the eye of the Lord. “. . . for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.” (Zech. 2:8).
It would truly be a sad day if ever one of His chosen were prevailed against. The enemy triumphant; the counsel of God and the purpose for His people defeated, disarmed, and snared by the creature. Shutter at such an impossible happening. This type of thinking was not, nor should it ever be, entertained by those who are blessed with new life in Christ. It is, however, considered by tried believers that God has for a time delivered them over to the will and desires of Satan. These streams of thought are best advanced in an earlier Psalm.
Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble? The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor . . . For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous . . . His ways are always grievous . . . His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity. He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor. He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net. He croucheth, and humbleth himself, that the poor may fall by his strong ones. He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it. (Ps. 10:1-2A, 3A, 5A, 7-11).
The child of God may perceive that the wicked are vessels of wrath in the hands of the Almighty to discipline and chasten them for profit, but the ungodly do not know for whom, or what purpose they discharge their vengeance. In this they gloat and exalt themselves as winners against God and His helpless followers. “I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him . . .” (2 Sam. 7:14-15).
It is not the Lord’s will that the great enemy of our souls should overcome his children. This would dishonor God, and cause the evil one to boast. It is well for us that our salvation and God’s honor are so intimately connected, that they stand or fall together. (The Treasury of David, by C. H. Spurgeon).
David knew that by his sins he had given many room to blaspheme. What a revolting picture this is for some of us. When the wicked consider our confession as believers and our manner of life, we become a reproach, and God in all His glory is degraded and insulted by us. The enemies of God think He is no better than we are, and that we are no better than they are. The only difference they see between themselves and a sinful believer is that they do not claim to be Christians. Much of the insolent taunting we receive, we deserve.
God is holy, but His honor is brought into question and His glory clouded if sinful believers are not, by His grace, eventually delivered and still the eternal objects of His affection. They are, and always will be, the apple of His eye. Yet, He will reprimand and chastise wayward children as David and a host more will testify, but His loving kindness He will never take from them. His glory and honor will shine as bright as the sun, and all will see it.
It is my contention that David was as truly concerned about God’s glory as he was his own deliverance. That is the reason why he reiterated again and again that God would not let the enemy prevail against him.
The ungodly may arrogantly exalt themselves, and applaud with great rejoicing at their seeming defeat of the saints and their Lord, but how little time they have for glee. “The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.” “That the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment? Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds; Yet he shall perish for ever like his own dung: they which have seen him shall say, where is he?” (Ps. 11:5-6, Job 20:5-7).
“But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.” At the end of every period of testing, there is always rejoicing. It may appear to our short-sightedness an awful, troublesome long time, but come it will, come it must.
“I have trusted in thy mercy.” To trust in our prayers, our good works, or good feelings about our faithfulness is a glaring blindness. It is perverseness in capital letters. We reek of the unworthy, and our sins are flagrant and many, even if concealed from men. They are open to the bone in the eyes of God. “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” (Heb. 4:13). David knew this and therefore trusted in the mercy of God alone.
“There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin. For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness. I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease: and there is no soundness in my flesh.” “For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us: for our transgressions are with us: and as for our iniquities, we know them; In transgressing and lying against the Lord, and departing away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.” (Ps. 38:3-7; Is. 59:12-14).
It is easy to trust in mercy when you feel there is not any great offenses. That this would surely be an improper assessment of one’s own cleanliness is true, but how often we feel spiritual when there is little or no harassment from the enemies. If, however, our sins are revealed and God pulls away our vain display of self, and sins begin to seep through the cracks of our filthy rag righteousness, how would we then deal with our condition. Is it not a wonderful blessing that the mercies of God endure forever?
More often than not, when man sees just how much sinful desire still clings to him, he withdraws and seeks to clean up a bit so that when he does present himself to God in prayer, he would, in his own eyes, not be quite as dirty as he was. Aha! this will never do, nor will it please God. To think we could get clean enough to call upon God is a greater transgression than the ones that caused Him to withdraw from us at the first. Hide not thy sins, but confess them openly before God. This is true repentance, this only will God accept.
“I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.” “For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest… Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit . . . The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise . . . O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do thou it for thy name’s sake: for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against thee.” (Ps. 32:5, 51:3-4, 9-12, 17; Jer. 14:7).
“I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.” “There is no better assurance of final victory than that drawn from the grace which enables us to trust in the divine mercy in the darkest hours . . . Salvation in every Scriptural sense of the term has long been owned by the church of God to be exclusively from the Lord. In him alone is safety and protection. Even deliverance from temporal ills can be wrought by none except God be with him. How much more then is spiritual deliverance, the salvation of his soul, the work of God. He alone devised the wondrous plan. He alone executed it by His Son. He alone applies it by his Holy Spirit. But every effectual deliverance is from Jehovah. One thing is very noticeable in God’s dealings with his people – his interpositions are so arranged as to show that relief comes from him alone. (Psalms, by William S. Plummer).
Every time we are enlightened with regard to sins, God has dealt bountifully, but when He is pleased by His grace and mercy to cause contrition, He has dealt more bountifully, and when He has granted repentance, He has dealt most bountifully. The amazing aspect of all is that He does this day after day, year after year, with the same child! Who would not at this time do as David did. “I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.” And all The host of angels and redeemed sinners sang unto the Lord. “Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.” (Rev. 7:12)