In Psalm 13 we have the tried believer crying to God for deliverance and yet trusting in His overruling providence in spite of all the difficult circumstances of the way. Four times in the first two verses we get the cry, “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?” This is the heart cry, not only of Christian people during this present age of grace when we have to suffer for righteousness’ sake, but also it is the cry of God’s earthly people, Israel, who, ever since that dread hour when they exclaimed, “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matt. 27:25), have been suffering terribly because they failed to recognize their King when He came to bring deliverance.
While on our trip to the Holy Land my wife and my daughter and I stood by the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, and for something like an hour we watched the Jews, several hundreds of them, as they faced that wall, all that is left of the great structure that Solomon once built (the Mohammedans have control of the temple area above), and we heard them repeating these cries from the Psalms. Mournfully these words rang out, “How long? How long shall the enemy oppress? How long shall Thy people suffer? How long till Messiah comes and brings deliverance?” As we stood with them we too cried, “How long?” and we prayed with them, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” for we knew what they do not yet know, that deliverance will come with the return of our blessed Lord. And so the righteous here are crying to God for this deliverance.
“Consider and hear me,” they pray, “O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.” It is a very striking fact that death is presented both in the Old and New Testaments for the people of God as a sleep. That does not mean that when we put the bodies of our loved ones in Christ, away in the tomb, we bury all there is of them, that spirit, soul, and body go to sleep until the resurrection; for we know from Scripture that for the believer to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. When Christians die, they go directly to be with Christ, but the body sleeps, and that is what the Psalmist has in mind here. “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.” In spite of difficult circumstances the saint of God looks up in confidence and says, “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.” I do not know anything but the salvation of God that can enable people to joy in the midst of sorrow and to praise in the hour of trial. The world has its Stoics, men who look at things in a philosophical kind of way and say, “I am not going to complain nor show the white feather,” and so they grit their teeth and go on. That is a great thing. A lot of folk have not attained even to that. But that is not Christianity. Christianity enables one not only to endure uncomplainingly, but it also fills the heart and lips with songs in the night of sorrow and enables one to glory in tribulation. And so will it be with God’s people in the dark, dark days when the antichrist will be manifested and they will be suffering under his cruel and wicked rule.
In the fourteenth Psalm we have a picture of the whole world since Christ’s rejection. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” Perhaps he does not say it with his lips; perhaps he would not call himself an atheist, but he acts as though there is no God. Any man is a fool who lives in a world like this as though there is no God. As you look at the Psalm you will see that the words, “there is” are in italics, which means that there is nothing in the original to answer to them. They are added to make the sentence a little clearer. Let us leave them out: “The fool hath said in his heart, No God”—no God for me, no God in my life, no God in my thinking—I am going to have my own way; I am going to do as I please; I am going to have my fling; I am going to live as I want to live! “Fools make a mock at sin” (Prov. 14:9). I know the world looks on the Christian and says, “Those are the fools—those people who have given up the joys of this world; who have turned away from the good times earth has to offer.” Well, says the Apostle Paul, call us that if you like, “We are fools for Christ’s sake” (1 Cor. 4:10), and after all, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). The real fool is the man who has no place for God in his life.
“They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” These are the words quoted in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans where Paul brings the whole world, as it were, into court and lines them up and says, as it were, “Let me see, bow do you stand? Guilty or not guilty?” He finds them all guilty of sinning against God, and he gives the verdict, “None that doeth good.”—”There is none that understand-eth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:12, 11), and he quotes from this Psalm to sustain that judgment. “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men,” and He says, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” Is there any man anywhere, anybody who, following the bent of his natural mind, understands the purpose of his creation and really desires to seek after God? No; He says, there are none. “They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy.” What a filthy thing sin is! “There is none that doeth good, no, not one.”
And then he charges the workers of iniquity with acting as men who are absolutely destitute of common sense: “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge?” Is it because they are utterly stupid that they live as they do? Sin is a terribly stupid thing, for a man knows, if he stops to think, that he cannot escape the consequences of sin. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). What a stupid thing it is to go on sinning against God. No man in his right mind could ever do the things that some ungodly people do. “Who eat up My people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord.” You would think that common sense would hold people back from some of the crimes and iniquities they are guilty of, but when sin gets a hold on a man it perverts his judgment.
“There were they in great fear: for God is in the generation of the righteous,” and He notes all that ungodly men are doing. He notices all the suffering and scorn that the} heap upon His people. “When He maketh inquisition for blood, He remembereth them” (Psa. 9:12). Some day He will take matters into His own hands; meantime ungodly men shame “the counsel of the poor, because the Lord is his refuge.” And then the Psalmist cries, as he yearns for the coming of the Lord Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, to put everything right: “Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! when the Lord bringeth back the captivity of His people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.” We see Israel going back to the land of Palestine now, but they are going back in unbelief. It is true that it is in fulfillment of prophecy which shows many of them are to be back in their own land before Christ comes, and so they are going back rejecting the Saviour. But some day He will appear, and when He does, the salvation of Israel will come out of Zion. When He came the first time, the Saviour came out of Bethlehem, but in that future day the Word of God, the message of God, is going forth from Mount Zion when God’s King has been set upon His holy hill. And in that day when Christ reigns, who are the men who will have access into His presence, who are the people on whom He will look with complacency? These proud, haughty, careless worldlings who now seem to have things their own way? No; the Lord Jesus has said, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Oh, you say, those are the very people who need not expect to inherit much of this earth! If you do not stand up for your own rights and fight for them you do not get very far in this world. But Jesus says, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matt 11:29), and He is going to rule from the river to the ends of the earth, and those that manifest His spirit and have become partakers of the divine nature are the ones who will reign with Him in that day.
And so, in the fifteenth Psalm the Psalmist says, “Lord, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in Thy holy hill?” And now note the answer, “He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.” Oh, you say, I thought people were saved by grace. I did not know folk were saved by works. I thought the Word of God distinctly tells us that it is “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Tit. 3:5). Well, you thought right, but he is not speaking of salvation here; he is speaking of more than salvation, of reward in that coming day. He is speaking of those who shall reign with Christ, and who are they? Those who by newness of life prove the reality of the regeneration which they profess. They say they have been born of God; they say they have been justified by faith; they say that not by works of their own but by the finished work of Christ they have been converted; they have been made the righteousness of God in Christ, but how will other people know that? Simply because we tell them? They may question what we say; they must see a changed life, and those who in that coming day will find their place with Christ are those who manifest the new nature. He is not speaking of salvation here but of its manifestation. Do not talk about being made the righteousness of God in Christ if you do not work righteousness. If you are justified by faith, then you have received a new and righteous nature and your life should be a righteous life. He that “worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.” God says He desires “truth in the inward parts” (Psa. 51:6).
“Who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in Thy holy hill?” “He that backbiteth not with his tongue.” What is it to backbite with your tongue? To speak people fair to the face and to say unkind things about people behind their backs. Do you know anybody that does that? If you have a looking glass at home, take a good look in it and see whether you can see any one in that glass that ever backbites with his tongue, and if you do, get down on your knees and tell the Lord that you are ashamed of yourself and that by His grace you will seek to have a kind word for others instead of saying something unkind. You will be surprised to see how much happier you will be and how many more friends you will make. It is all right to talk about people behind their back if you say the right thing. Let us be among those who never backbite with the tongue.
“Nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.” He neither does that which definitely harms his neighbor, nor does he pick up a story from someone else and spread it abroad. He is seeking to help instead of to hinder. “In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord.” Instead of standing with and endorsing the tactics of the vile person, he judges all that. In Proverbs 25:23 we read, “The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.” Somebody comes to you and says, “Did you hear about Brother So and So?”
“No!” you say.
“Oh, it is something dreadful.”
You say, “I do not wish to hear it!” and look as fierce as you can and you will drive him away. Stop that scandal instead of saying, “Oh, tell me about it!” and then going to the phone and spreading it. That is the way fellowship is broken. But if you will meet the backbiter with an angry countenance, instead of breaking fellowship you will maintain it.
And then notice: “He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.” That is, if he settles it with God that he is going to do a certain thing, even though he finds out afterward that it does not seem to be to his benefit, he says, I am going on and do it anyway. If he has said, “Lord, I am going to give so and so to Thy work,” and then things get hard, and he thinks, “I guess I cannot give the Lord what I intended; I need that money for things for myself,” and so he spends the money on himself and has no more to spare. But if he says, “But I have opened my mouth to the Lord and cannot go back,” and he deals faithfully with God, he finds that they that honor God are honored of Him.
“He that putteth not out his money to usury.” It is perfectly right and proper in a business way to invest money and get interest for it. The parable of the talents makes that clear, “Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury” (Matt. 25:27). But if a brother or a sister is in need and you have the money to help and they come to you and you say, “Well, yes, I am willing to help. What security can you give?”
“I am sorry but I have none except the word of a Christian man or woman.”
“Well, how much interest will you pay?” That is asking usury.
That is the thing that God’s Word condemns. His people of old were not allowed to take interest from money loaned to their brethren, and the “Righteousness of the law [is] fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4). These are some very practical things, and a lot of us would get a great deal more blessing if we lived them out.
“Nor taketh reward against the innocent,” that is, would not profit through the stumbling of another. “He that doeth these things shall never be moved.” In other words, this Psalm sets before us the things that should characterize the child of God as he is passing through this world waiting for the coming of the righteous King, and when the King comes, he will stand before Him with perfect confidence to receive His approbation and to reign with Him in that day.