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The Struggles of the Soul

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SUBJECT:     The Struggles of the Soul

READING:    Psalm 13


This psalm records the cry of the afflicted and therefore harmonizes with several of the preceding psalms. Here David rested confidently on the loyal love of the Lord (v. 5), even though he found no immediate deliverance from the oppression of the adversary, God’s enemy.

As we will discover throughout the Psalter, David sings himself out of his trouble. The specific crisis which caused the psalmist’s distress is difficult to pinpoint. It may well be that David wrote this psalm during the period when he was being hunted relentlessly by Saul and was afraid to rest or close his eyes lest he should never waken. Whatever may have been the background to this psalm, we find in it a description of

I. A Soul’s Agitation

“How long wilt thou forget me.…how long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?” (Psalm 13:1-2). Four times David asks the question, “How long?” The trial through which he was passing had brought him into a state of dread and desperation. For David and for us there is:

1) No Sense of God’s Presence

“How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). David felt he was being ignored by God. Perhaps God has become so preoccupied with other people's problems that He has no time for me. Or maybe it was something I did that finally caused Him to turn away from me, maybe it was what I said to that person yesterday that He's upset about.

No believer can lose the Sense of God’s presence without experiencing agitation of soul. When the spotless Son of God became sin in those crucial hours on the cross He cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:34). It was there the Lord Jesus took the punishment for human sin in order to provide divine righteousness and eternal life for all who would exercise faith in Him. As the Savior anticipated this dark experience He could say: “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour” (John 12:27).

To a lesser degree, saints through the centuries have experienced something of the same agitation of soul, when God has had to turn His face away from them because of sin. For sinners, the ultimate end of such forsakenness is eternal hell, which is the portion of all who reject the way of salvation as revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ.

1. Illustrate

…by describing the agitation of soul which came to Joseph and Mary when they lost Jesus, after their visit to the feast in Jerusalem (see Luke 2:41-50).

2) No Sense of God’s Purpose

“How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?” (Psalm 13:2). Here the psalmist confesses the utter failure of all his own plans and schemes to get him out of trouble. The more he cast about for escape the more hopeless he became.

2. Illustrate

…e.g. “A lady who had endured much suffering in a hospital once wrote: ‘The inspired words of Job 37:21—[And now men see not the bright light which is in the clouds; but the wind passeth, and cleanseth them]—have become very precious to me. At first it was impossible to see the bright light…in the clouds,’ but afterward I knew that all the heartache the Lord permitted to come into my life was for my own good. Now I am trying, to help others see their rainbow and recognize that the showers of trouble are sent for our cleansing” (Henry G. Bosch, Our Daily Bread).

3) No Sense of God’s Power

“How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:2). Without God’s presence and purpose David was no match for the devil. He describes his enemy as towering over him—“How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:2).

 So it is in your life and mine. Once we lose the sense of God’s presence and purpose, Satan’s attacks will seem overwhelming.”

3. Illustrate

…by using the story of Jonah (see especially Chapter 2).

II. A Soul’s Supplication

“Consider and hear me,…lighten mine eyes…lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him” (Psalm 13:3-4). Agitation should lead us to supplication. Trouble gives point, pathos and power to prayer. Notice how David uses the language of the covenant relationship: “Consider and hear me, O Lord my God” (Psalm 13:3). He is asking for two things:

1) A Fresh Revelation of God

“Lighten mine eyes” (Psalm 13:3). Here is a request that God would dispel his doubts and give him a new vision of the divine person, purpose and power. The function of true prayer is to make us aware of God. When we come to Him in genuine penitence, supplication and faith God is always ready to reveal Himself to us. The Bible makes this clear when it says, “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). We cannot study the lives of biblical characters, or of the saints through the centuries, without being impressed by the fact that supplication in the Spirit always leads men to a fresh revelation of God.

4. Illustrate

…by using the story of Isaiah the prophet (see Chapter 6).

2) A Full Restoration to 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” (Psalm 13:3-4). Spurgeon says: “Darkness engenders sleep, while despondency is not slow in making the eyes heavy. From this faintness and dimness of vision, caused by despair, there is but a step to the iron sleep of death.”

“The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). For the believer, the pervasiveness of sin can result in deadness of the soul, or even the cutting off of physical life. For the Christ-rejector, it involves the certainty of eternal death. Thus the psalmist knew the deliverance necessity of complete from the power of the enemy and of divine restoration, lest he suffer the full consequences of living out of fellowship with God, which is, to Satan, a cause for triumph and rejoicing.

5. Illustrate

…by using the story of Peter’s restoration, describing what happened after we read the words, “He went out, and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75); study carefully Luke 22:31-32 and then compare Mark 16:7; Luke 24:34. Jesus later appeared to Peter in that transforming encounter in John 21:15-17.

III. A Soul’s Jubilation

“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” (Psalm 13:5-6). Here we see David’s darkness giving way to light, his agitation to jubilation. The change was not in his circumstances, but in his attitude. The fresh revelation of God and the full restoration to God had left him with:

1) A Confirmed Faith

“But I have trusted in thy mercy” (Psalm 13:5). The past tense of the verb describes faith not as something to be felt hereafter, or as just beginning to be felt at present, but as already exercised and cherished, and therefore likely to be continued. David is saying, “I have trusted and still do trust and I will keep on trusting.”

6. Illustrate

…e.g. Mary’s song during her visit to Elizabeth is another jubilant testimony. She opens with, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” confirming her personal faith right then. She goes on to refer to what God had done in the past: “He has shown strength…exalted those of low degree, filled the hungry with good things…helped his servant Israel.” And she expressed confidence that he would not fail in the future. “His mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:46-56 rsv).

…by continuing the story of Peter. Amplify and apply the words of Luke 22:31-32; Acts 2:1-47.

2) A Renewed Song

“My heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:5-6). How different is the end of this psalm from the beginning! David starts with a sob and finishes with a song. Singing always breaks out when the experiences deliverance.

7. Illustrate

…by describing the song that burst forth from Miriam and the children of Israel after the Red Sea was crossed (Exodus 15; see also Psalm 40:1-4).


God’s purpose in our lives is never fulfilled until we have been brought out of soul conflict into soul conquest. As we have seen from the teaching of this psalm, soul struggle is a universal human experience. What was true of David, of Peter, of Augustine, of Luther, of Calvin, and a host of others, is true of you and me. If our soul’s agitation leads us to supplication and then to jubilation, we are on the winning side. Remember, though, that there are no conquests without conflicts, no rainbows without clouds, no calms without storms, and that the hardest victory is the victory over self. Let us pray:

Give me vict’ry, precious Lord,

O’er sin and self each day;

Teach me vict’ry through Thy Word

To walk the narrow way;

So shall the struggles of the soul

Give way to peace and rest,

And lusts that threaten to befoul,

No longer shall molest.


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