The subject of this psalm is almost the same as that of the preceding. David, being afflicted, not only with the deepest distress, but also feeling himself, as it were, overwhelmed by a long succession of calamities and multiplied afflictions, implores the aid and succor of God, the only remedy which remained for him; and, in the close, taking courage, he entertains the assured hope of life from the promise of God, even amidst the terrors of death.
To the chief musician. A song of David.
1. How long, O Jehovah, wilt thou forget me, for ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? 2. How long shall I take counsel in my soul? and have sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me ?
1. How long, O Jehovah. It is very true that David was so greatly hated by the generality of people, on account of the calumnies and false reports which had been circulated against him, that almost all men judged that God was not less hostile to him than Saul1 and his other enemies were. But here he speaks not so much according to the opinion of others, as according to the feeling of his own mind, when he complains of being neglected by God. Not that the persuasion of the truth of God's promises was extinguished in his heart, or that he did not repose himself on his grace; but when we are for a long time weighed down by calamities, and when we do not perceive any sign of divine aid, this thought unavoidably forces itself upon us, that God has forgotten us. To acknowledge in the midst of our afflictions that God has really a care about us, is not the usual way with men, or what the feelings of nature would prompt; but by faith we apprehend his invisible providence. Thus, it seemed to David, so far as could be judged from beholding the actual state of his affairs, that he was forsaken of God. At the same time, however, the eyes of his mind, guided by the light of faith, penetrated even to the grace of God, although it was hidden in darkness. When he saw not a single ray of good hope to whatever quarter he turned, so far as human reason could judge, constrained by grief, he cries out that God did not regard him; and yet by this very complaint he gives evidence that faith enabled him to rise higher, and to conclude, contrary to the judgment of the flesh, that his welfare was secure in the hand of God. Had it been otherwise, how could he direct his groanings and prayers to him? Following this example, we must so wrestle against temptations as to be assured by faith, even in the very midst of the conflict, that the calamities which urge us to despair must be overcome; just as we see that the infirmity of the flesh could not hinder David from seeking God, and having recourse to him:and thus he has united in his exercise, very beautifully, affections which are apparently contrary to each other. The words, How long, for ever? are a defective form of expression; but they are much more emphatic than if he had put the question according to the usual mode of speaking, Why for so long a time? By speaking thus, he gives us to understand, that for the purpose of cherishing his hope, and encouraging himself in the exercise of patience, he extended his view to a distance, and that, therefore, he does not complain of a calamity of a few days' duration, as the effeminate and the cowardly are accustomed to do, who see only what is before their feet, and immediately succumb at the first assault. He teaches us, therefore, by his example, to stretch our view as far as possible into the future, that our present grief may not entirely deprive us of hope.
2. How long shall I take counsel in my soul? We know that men in adversity give way to discontent, and look around them, first to one quarter, and then to another, in search of remedies. Especially, upon seeing that they are destitute of all resources, they torment themselves greatly, and are distracted by a multitude of thoughts; and in great dangers, anxiety and fear compel them to change their purposes from time to time, when they do not find any plan upon which they can fix with certainty. David, therefore, complains, that while thinking of different methods of obtaining relief, and deliberating with himself now in one way, and now in another, he is exhausted to no purpose with the multitude of suggestions which pass through his mind; and by joining to this complaint the sorrow which he felt daily, he points out the source of this disquietude. As in severe sickness the diseased would desire to change their place every moment, and the more acute the pains which afflict them are, the more fitful and eager are they in shifting and changing; so, when sorrow seizes upon the hearts of men, its miserable victims are violently agitated within, and they find it more tolerable to torment themselves without obtaining relief, than to endure their afflictions with composed and tranquil minds. The Lord, indeed, promises to give to the faithful "the spirit of counsels" (Isaiah 11:2) but he does not always give it to them at the very beginning of any matter in which they are interested, but suffers them for a time to be embarrassed by long deliberation without coming to a determinate decision,2 or to be perplexed, as if they were entangled among thorns, not knowing whither to turn,3 or what course to take. Some explain the Hebrew word Mmwy, yomam, as meaning all the day long. But it seems to me, that by it is rather meant another kind of continuance, namely, that his sorrow returned, and was renewed every day. In the end of the verse he deplores another evil, that his adversaries triumph over him the more boldly, when they see him wholly enfeebled, and as it were wasted by continual languor. Now this is an argument of great weight in our prayers; for there is nothing which is more displeasing to God, and which he will less bear with, than the cruel insolence which our enemies display, when they not only feast themselves by beholding us in misery, but also rise up the higher against us, and treat us the more disdainfully, the more they see us oppressed and afflicted.