From Sorrow To Singing

By Nathan Guess

In Psalm 13, the Psalmist David laments, “How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? Forever? 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.”

The question asked by David, "How long?" is no doubt a question that all of us have asked at one point or another in our lives. Children may ask, "How much longer until we get there?" "How much longer until I can be done with school and go outside and play?" "I know we just ate lunch 5 minutes ago, but how much longer until supper?" A familiar one I personally get asked, "How much longer is this sermon going to last?" As trite as those may seem to us, from the vantage point of the child, in that moment there is a certain level of  distress and discomfort, as well as impatience and discontent.

As we get older the question becomes more serious, the angst more difficult to bear, the distress more overwhelming. Maybe it is a sleepless night, grieving the loss of a loved one, a bad report from the doctor, a wayward child, a struggling marriage, or just the overall state of spiritual darkness all around. Life can truly become quite overwhelming.

We do not know the exact context of this particular Psalm of David, but knowing David's life from reading the Psalms and 1 and 2 Samuel, we could pick almost any part of his life and plug it into this Psalm. Some commentators believe this is when he is fleeing from King Saul, while others believe this is when he is fleeing from his son Absalom who was trying to usurp his own father's throne.

David’s Distressed Inquiry (verses 1-4)

The reader should take note of where David turns with his distress. In his anguish, even feeling as if God is hiding from him, David still is crying out to the God who seems so far away. This should be instructive to any troubled saint. Where do you turn when you feel “light-years” away from any tangible sense of God's presence with you? The temptation is to sink into deeper depression and angst; maybe drinking or smoking your sorrows away. Or giving into some other sin that will provide momentary relief, but lead to more destruction. Be instructed by David’s example, and run hard into God’s strong arms even when He feels far away.

In verse 2, we see that David’s sorrow is constant, he is getting no relief from his inner turmoil as it is going on “daily.” He is wrestling with his own thoughts that are leading him to the darkest places of his heart and mind.  He screams, “How Long?!” four times. It is as if he says, “God, I cannot take it anymore!”

In verse 3, He is begging God to “Consider and hear me…lighten mine eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death.” He needs some clarity, direction and illumination as what to do and where to go. David is saying, “If You do not lighten my way I am going to die!” In David’s case this was true. Whether the context is his running from Saul or his son Absalom attempting to usurp his rule, David is one step ahead of death for much of his life.

Throughout the Psalms we see that David is well familiar with anguish of soul. In Psalm 6:6, he states, “I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with tears.” David is basically saying that he is exhausted from crying through the night. In Psalm 31:10, he says that his life “is spent with grief…” In Psalm 38, it is clear that David is suffering anguish of soul due to his own actions. Of course, anyone remotely familiar with the Bible knows about David’s well-documented sins and their hard consequences. Oftentimes, it may be the same with us. But as difficult as the consequences may be, it really is an act of love from our Father to bring affliction to discipline us. He knows how to get our attention and bring us back to Himself.

David’s Firm Recommitment (verses 5-6)

We see a transition in David’s attitude in verse 5, as he recommits his heart to God. David goes from questioning God to trusting God. To trust is to place your confidence and take refuge in a person or thing. Tragically, many people place their confidence and refuge in their job, entertainment or other fleeting things. David instead places his trust in the flawless character of God. Specifically, God’s mercy is where David turns. The word mercy in the passage comes from the Hebrew word Hesed and can be translated as God’s faithfulness, lovingkindness, steadfastness, grace, goodness, favor, pity or loyalty. The word is mentioned 248 times in Scripture, and 127 times in the Psalms alone. In Psalm 136, the refrain “his mercy (hesed) endureth forever” is stated 26 times. God’s mercy really encompasses the character of God. In fact, one commentator has called mercy (hesed) “the defining character of God.”

Praise God, struggling saint! God has a storehouse of mercy ready to pour out on His children who come to Him in humility and brokenness. If you have come to see yourself as a sinner whose only hope of salvation is found in the finished work of Christ on the cross, then you are a monument of His mercy. The hymn writer rightly exclaims, “The door of Thy mercy stands open all day to the poor and the needy who knock by the way; No sinner shall ever be empty sent back who comes seeking mercy for Jesus’ sake.”

David goes from questioning to trusting to now rejoicing in the goodness of God over him. This does not mean that somehow all of David’s troubles magically went away; they did not. Yet, David’s source of rejoicing is not in circumstances, but in the salvation of God in his life. To save is to deliver, or as one definition states, “to rescue from the jaws of danger.” We know that God’s hand of deliverance has been with David throughout his life, whether it is rescuing him from a lion, bear, an arrogant giant, Saul, or his own son trying to kill him. David has also been a recipient of God’s salvation through the prophet Nathan confronting him with his unconfessed sin, which led David to repent of his transgressions and have his fellowship with the Lord restored.

Even if the circumstances of your life are hard, and the burden is too much for you to bear, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ then you too can (and must) rejoice in the salvation of the Lord. Even when you were yet a sinner, Christ, the epitome of perfection and holiness, willingly was brutally beaten, forsaken by His Father, and crucified for your sake. Jesus Christ can relate to the sufferer. He knows what it is to be hungry, thirsty, tired, not have a decent place to sleep, to be forsaken and reviled. Take heart; Jesus knows what you are experiencing. This is indeed great cause for rejoicing! Jesus Christ has come to rescue sinners, who were willing subjects in Satan’s kingdom of darkness, and transfer them into the glorious Kingdom of Christ.

Is it possible that the Psalmist really can go from howling (asking “How Long?!”) to now singing? This is only possible because David began to change where He was looking. He now has his gaze firmly on God and off of self. Believer, you also can go from sorrowing to singing when you fix your eyes on Christ. This does not mean all your troubles will automatically disappear, but it does mean that you can sing through the trial because you are a beneficiary of the 'hesed' of God, who turns mourning into dancing. You too can be like Paul and Silas singing through the pain and embarrassment of being beaten and naked and locked in a prison cell. You can do this because you know that one day the Almighty, Infinite, Holy, Merciful God of heaven and earth will sing over you.

Zephaniah 3:17- “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.”

Nathan Guess is an elder at Grace Chapel Primitive Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee