How Long, O Lord?

Intro: Are you ever amazed at God’s longsuffering? Are you ever perplexed by it? Have you ever asked God. “How Long, O Lord”? There are times when I wonder why God does not come in immediate judgment against the evil I see around us. What is He waiting for? This seems to be the image of Revelation 6:9-10. Those who have been savagely put to death for their faith in God are crying out to God for justice.

Rev. 6:9-10When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” The spirits of these martyrs were giving voice to the sincere longings of all those who were suffering for Christ. They looked for God to deliver them from their troubles or judge their enemies. Had God deserted them?

  • These words are easily associated with extended suffering; when things are bad we want God to intervene and fix them. We seldom say these words when things are going well.
  • These words come to us from 2 legitimate yearnings:

1. A desire for justice. Will God make things right?

2. A desire for endurance: If there is an end in sight, I can endure.

Consider a short Psalm of David that characterizes this plea.

I. Read Psalm 13. This Psalm is attributed to David. (Categorized as one of the Psalms of Lament) The historical context of its writing is unknown, but most would assign it to the tumultuous period of David’s life when he was hiding out in the wilderness from King Saul or running from his son, Absalom. Although this Psalm is short it provides lessons that are applicable throughout our lives.

A. “How long?” – David asks the question 4 times in the beginning of this song. That is, how long would he have to bear up under the stress and strain of his present situation or condition? How long would he have to endure? Was there any end in sight?

1. Have you ever found yourself asking this question? How long would he have to put up with all of the troubles he was facing? There seemed to be no end in sight.

II. From Despair to Confidence – This Psalm can be easily divided into 3 sections:

  • v. 1-2 – David cries to God out of despair. He faces a sense of hopelessness.
  • v. 3-4 – David makes an appeal to God for deliverance.
  • v. 4-5 – David testifies concerning his confidence in God. He will answer me.

A. A typical journey of faith. The soul may pass quickly from one emotion to another – from fear to hope, from despair to peace. This Psalm depicts a journey of faith that all of us may experience at times. What we can recognize for this is that the cry of despair does not necessarily indicate a lack of faith.

1. Look at some others who cried this same thing:

• AsaphPsalm 74:9-11 –…There is no longer any prophet; Nor is there any among us who know how long. O God, how long will the adversary reproach? Will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever? Psalm 79:5-7How long, Lord? Will You be angry forever? Will Your jealousy burn like fire? Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know You, and on the kingdoms that do not call on Your name.

• Ethan the Ezrahite – Ps. 89:46-49How long, Lord? Will You hide Yourself forever? Will Your wrath burn like fire? Remember how short my time is; for what futility have You created all the children of men? What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave?

• Moses – Ps. 90:13-14Return, O Lord! How long? And have compassion on Your servants. Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, That we may rejoice and be glad all our days!

• Unnamed psalmist – Ps. 94:1-3O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongs – O God, to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth! Rise up, O Judge of the earth; Render punishment to the proud. Lord, how long will the wicked, How long will the wicked triumph?

• Habakkuk – Hab. 1:2-3 – O Lord, how long shall I cry, And You will not hear? Even cry out to Your, “Violence!” And You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, And cause me to see trouble? …

2. All of these faithful servants were cognizant of the power of evil to dominant the good. Because God does not immediately respond in judgment it appears that evil has triumphed. Faith tells us that God can do something. But does our faith tell us when? We want to know “how long”.

B. The Cry of Despair: (v. 1-2) How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? 2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? These first two verses paint a desperate picture. The Psalmist is desperate because he doesn’t see any sign of things changing. The emphasis of his complaint is found in the word “forever”. Has God completely deserted him and therefore taken away all hope (hid Your face from me?) We are prone to make this assessment – things will not change.

1. vs. 2 points to David’s own fruitless attempts to find a way out of his troubles. The NIV says… “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” He is frustrated by his inability to solve his problems and improve his condition. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary says… Hopeless perplexity is described, wherein the believer now thinks of one plan, now of another, and finally gives up all as being all alike of no avail.

a. This description fits well David’s situation when he was fleeing from Saul. He sought refuge at one time in the caves and hills, at another among the Moabites, at another among the Philistines; and at last, brought to his wits’ ends, he despondingly said, “I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul” (1 Sam 27:1).

b. The Psalmist’s frustration constantly confronts him and has sorrow in his heart daily. This refers to the anxiety that is produced by his perception that God has deserted him. Have you ever felt this way? How does one respond to such feelings?

C. The Appeal for Help: (v. 3-4) 3 Consider and hear me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death; 4 Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed against him”; Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved. This is important element of the complaint. This is what makes David’s cry of despair an act of faith and not faithlessness. “Instead of complaints against God to man, the believer brings all to God; instead of turning from God, he makes sorrows a ground for turning to God.” Prayer is the proper response. The Psalmist believes that God will hear, that God is listening.

1. “Enlighten my eyes” – there are two possible interpretations here:

a. in the midst of his perplexing situation he asks for the proper vision to see things more clearly. A spiritual perception is the wisdom we need in the face of suffering. James 1:2-5 – My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

b. Others (Barnes, Keil & Delitzsch) suggest that the lightening of the eyes refers to the restoration of life (eyes getting dark). The Psalmist saw death as near – (lest I sleep the sleep of death”) and asks God to restore it. “The prayer, therefore, that God would “enlighten his eyes,” was a prayer that he would interpose and save him from that death which he felt was rapidly approaching.” (from Barnes’)

2. “Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed against him”; (vs. 4) the psalmist’s prayer for the help is based upon the premise that, “If he dies, his enemies will interpret his death in such a way as to mock his trust in God.” God’s honor is bound up with the deliverance of his people. Moses appealed to God from the same perspective when he expressed a willingness to destroy Israel – Num 14:15-16 “If thou kill this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying, Because Jehovah was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness”.

a. But in contrast, the fact that the faithful suffer is not evidence that God has deserted him, or that he is unfaithful. If his enemy speaks evil against God, it is unjust and without understanding.

b. The willingness of the faithful to be obedient and do good can disarm the unbelievers. 1 Peter 2:11-121 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

D. The Testimony of Confidence: vs. 5-6 5 But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me. David’s prayers are soon turned into praises. What a surprising change is here in a few lines! – From despair to praise – The renewed confidence is evidence of the power of faith and testimony to the efficacy of prayer.

1. The Psalmist’s recognition of God’s mercy is the support of his faith. In times past he has “trusted in Your mercy”, and God had never failed him. This is enough now to bring joy, even in the most difficult time.

a. David had earlier reasoned from this same perspective – 1 Sam 17:33-36 – 33 And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, 35 I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.”

b. Ps 37:23-2623 The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way. 24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the LORD upholds him with His hand. 25 I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread. 26 He is ever merciful, and lends; And his descendants are blessed.

2. “I will sing to the Lord” – His cry has turned to a song. The Psalmist’s praise is in recognition of the Lord’s bountiful blessings. To “deal bountifully” literally means to “requite” or pay back. The Lord has answered his cry and had paid him back for the bad times. His cry of how long is answered.

a. God’s people can be certain that He rewards true faith.

b. The ability of the suffering heart to give praise to God is founded in the confidence that God can and will make things right again. Rom 8:16-18 – The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

c. Christians look with great anticipation toward the coming judgment of God. They do not fear judgment because they believe in God’s promise of forgiveness.

Conclusion: How Long? For the Christian the answer is not too long. The NT ends God’s revelation with this righteous anticipation. The hope of every Christian is bound up in the coming of Christ.

  • Rev 22:1-7- And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. 4 They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. 5 There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever. 6 Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place. 7 “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
  • Rev 22:12-14 2 “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” 14 Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.
  • Rev 22:20 – 20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!