07 June 2013

Psalm 13: Inward Look, Outward Look, Upward Look

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the blog back in October 2010. Phil discusses the three perspectives of David's prayer in Psalm 13.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Psalm 13 is a fascinating look into a side of David's prayer life we can all easily relate to. This man after God's own heart pours his soul out in frustration, fear, and ultimately faith as he struggles through the ordeal of tribulation.

The psalm is first of all a great prayer. There's nothing typical about it; in fact, it shatters our presuppositions about what really "spiritual" praying is like. But a close look shows it is in perfect harmony with how Jesus taught us to pray. Brevity and honesty—two qualities sadly missing from most of our prayers—stand out as its hallmarks.

More than a lesson about prayer, however, this psalm is a model response for those of us going through deep trials. David wrote it in anguish over the apparent success of an unrelenting enemy. We don't know which enemy—it might have been Saul, the renegade king, who chased David like an outlaw; or it could have been the Philistines, who as a nation epitomized all that God hates.


At first David looks inside himself, and sees only his own sorrow (vv. 1-2a). See how many times in these early verses he uses the first-person pronouns: "I," "me," "my," "my soul," "my enemy," "my heart." He's questioning God, wallowing in his own defeat, wondering why God seems to be hiding His face.

Was God hiding His face? Of course not! David was merely looking in the wrong place.

There's a serious danger in the wrong kind of inward look. Healthy introspection, the kind that leads to confession of sin and the humble brokenness of which Jesus spoke in Matthew 5:3-5, is critical to our spiritual survival. But looming in the face of those who look within themselves is a monstrous peril: a morbid preoccupation with our own inadequacies that breeds depression and debilitates us spiritually.


David turns his focus from within and begins to look around (vv. 2b-4). Now all he sees are his surroundings. What a different David this is from the young shepherd who strode confidently into the presence of the mighty Goliath with no armor and only a few pebbles for weapons! Pay careful heed to the lesson: one great victory does not ensure future triumph.


Finally, in verses 5 and 6, David looks to the Lord, and there he sees his salvation. Compare this passage to verses 1 and 2. "Me . . .I . . .mine" has given way to "thy mercy . . . thy salvation . . . the Lord."

Thus what in the beginning sounded like a dismal wail of unbelief becomes an exhilarating hymn of faith. What's the difference? The trial has not changed—but David's point of view has. Now his eyes are clearly directed upward.

Salvation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 3:8)—that goes for deliverance from trials as well as salvation from sin. No other truth emerges from everywhere in Scripture so definitively. If we look around or within—or anywhere but to God—for a way of escape, we are condemned to disappointment and ultimate failure.

It is God who provides the way of escape—not out of our trials, but rather through them. He enables us to bear testing, not avoid it (1 Cor. 10:13). And He uses our tribulations to accomplish His wonderful purpose in us (Rom. 5:3-5, James 1:3-4).

Thus God works all things—including our hardest testings—together for our good. That's the ultimate victory, and it's how even in our darkest hour of trials, we can fix our eyes on Him and say confidently with David, "He hath dealt bountifully with me" (v. 6).