Psalm 13: A prayer for Deliverance from Enemies
1How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy triumph over me?
3Consider me and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken,
5but I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.
There is an Easter hymn which used to go “Jesus lives! No longer now can thy terror, death, appal us” but, because of the music, often came out as “Jesus lives no longer now.” Pauses, indicated by punctuation, have a profound impact on the meaning of a sequence of words. Here the psalmist is lamenting an apparent lack of response from God. “How long, O Lord? How long will you forget me? Will it be for ever? I’ve been waiting; I’ve been asking; I’ve been pleading; I’ve been crying out to you, but it seems you do not want to respond.”
Clearly the psalmist has a sense of alienation from God, but not, to his reckoning at least, of his own making. Those who wish he would give up his dedication to God are circling in anticipation of being able to be declared winners. The vultures are flying around, just waiting for the moment to strike with glee. The APBA version of the psalm ends verse 4 with “lest my foes exult at my overthrow”, which, though it is closer to the Hebrew than this translation in the NRSV, suggests that the writer has already succumbed to the attack. The tone of the psalm shows that is not true.
During a secret meeting – for which there will never be an accurate record of what was discussed – I was taken off an ordination programme just as all around me were asking if my ordination date had been set. I was shifted to another parish, and the priest there was told that I could take no leadership role for at least six months. No-one suggested I had done, or might do, anything wrong, so why six months out of leadership roles I had occupied for many years? Was an “enemy” testing my faith and hoping that I would fail? “How long, O God, must I bear the pain in my soul?” Over the years I have helped many people, in several dioceses, who have offered themselves for ordination in the Anglican Church only to be knocked back with explanations which aren’t consistent with evidence or logic. Is discernment of God’s will subordinate to that of those who might not realise they are being controlled by the devil? The enemies might claim that they have prevailed – and, unfortunately, in some cases that has clearly happened, but there is an increasing minority who are still asking God for a response.
On the cross, Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ, himself, had fought the devil controlling the religious establishment of the day, and even He turned his cry of frustration to His Heavenly Father. Martin Luther, among many others, raised issues with the controlling nature of the Roman Catholic Church, believing he had enough evidence to show that people were being controlled for the benefit of the Church, not for the benefit of the Good News. The examples of people resorting to this psalm go on through every generation. Whistle-blowers are persecuted for disturbing the peace, and threatened with lengthy gaol terms. Others are repeatedly ignored until they submit, or die.
For those who continue to trust in God’s steadfast love, there is hope of being able to rejoice in the salvation He offers. Can we sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with them? Maybe, as true followers of Christ, we may be able to do that in the life hereafter, though it would be good to be able to do it here and now.
If you want to read the reflection on Genesis 22:1-14 see http://frends.biz/reflections/2nd-july-2017-trinity-4/ .