Spiritual Articles

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me?

pope shenouda iii

Psalm 121 is considered to be the keeping psalm; it is the one of fear of being forsaken.

It is a psalm of a tired person who is afraid that God may have forsaken him...

And it seems that his tiredness lasted for so long and he became troubled because of its length. That’s why he cries to the Lord saying: “How long” and repeats it four times:

“How long, O Lord?
Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?”

This psalm was said by the Prophet David when he was being pursued by King Saul.

This evil king envied him and feared losing his kingdom for him. That is why he was pursuing him from one wilderness to another, from one cave to another and from one place to another aiming to kill him by all means, if he can...

The war was unequal. Saul has no objection in killing David if he falls in his hands. And he tried that more than once. Yet David could not kill that enemy every time he falls in his hands. That is because he is the anointed of the Lord, and David’s conscience does not allow him to stretch out his hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord (1S 24:6) (1S 26:9, 11).

Thus he said in his psalm “How long will my enemy be exalted over me?”.

 

It is a psalm that starts with worrying and sadness and ends with joy and praising.

It is like other psalms by David, they start with sadness annoyingness or fear. And during praying the psalm he feels that the Lord is answering his prayer and feels His work for him, so his request turns to thanking or joy and praising.

Here he starts the psalm with the sentence “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me?”

The Lord has never forgotten him, but because of his troublesome he has that feeling! He feels the Lord has forsaken him, because the labor duration has gone long. And here he is being pursued by a king and his army, until he became close to despair and got scared of falling in Saul’s hands...
And if David goes back with his memory, he would have known, out of his experience, that the Lord did not forget him when he fought against a lion and a bear as he was keeping the sheep. The Lord was with him, thus he was able to kill both the lion and the bear (!S 17:36). The Lord was with him also and did not forget him when he went to fight the champion Goliath and he prevailed him also with a stone struck by his sling (1S 17:51). The Lord was with him and did not forget him when Saul was after him trying to kill him as he was in the family surrounding and when Jonathan was always taking his side and saving him from his father Saul and so did Michal as well (1S 19:12).

We might be warred with the idea that God has forgotten us, because we forgot God’s former benefits for us. Or if we forgot His saying: “Can a woman forget her nursing child?... Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you.” (Is 49:15).

  • The Holy Bible tells us stories about the Lord never forgetting any of his flock no matter how long it takes. And what we have to do is to never lose hope no matter how long it gets. The sick man at Bethesda (Jn 5) spent 38 years in his sickness, yet he was waiting for an angel to stir up the water in the pool so that he steps in and be healed, and the Lord did not forget him, though 38 years have passed, and He healed him.
  •  And the bent over woman whom Satan has bound for 18 years, whom story was mentioned in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 13:10-13). The Lord did not forget her after all these long years, yet He laid His hand on her and healed her and she became straight. Her staying for 18 years in the sickness did not ever mean that the Lord has forgotten her!.
  •  The same also can be realized in the creation story. As the bible says “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep” (Gn 1:2). And in spite of that formlessness and darkness, God did not abandon it but it was said that: “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters”. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God divided the light from the darkness. And God kept taking care of that Earth until it became that beautiful Earth that we live on and that poets praise in their poems ... Another example is our father Abraham, the father of fathers, and his wife Sara, and how both of them were patient so that God gives them a Seed, until Abraham was a hundred years old and Sara was ninety and she said: “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?" (Gn 18:12)... Even at that age, God did not forget about them and He gave them what He has promised them...
  •  Also David was never forgotten by God. He handed him the kingdom finally... After tribulations grew up the personality of this Lad who was “ruddy, with bright eyes” (1S 16:12) about whom King Saul asked “whose son this young man is?” (1S 17:56)... Tribulations and trials refined him as did experience and days. He became no more a young man when he took over the kingdom... 

David asks saying: “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me?!” No, had the Lord forgotten you, you would have perished a long time ago... Same would have happened if He had hidden his face from you.

No, he had inscribed you on His palm (Is 49:16), and His eyes are fixed on you from the morning watch until night... A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you (Ps 91:7).

But God allowed him some tribulations from Saul’s side so that he benefits spiritually and be humble from inside after her killed the bear and the lion and had triumph over Goliath. So, through pain and tribulation, he did not get pride in his heart. And he used to say to the Lord: “But I am poor and needy; Make haste to me, O God!” (Ps 70:5).

He was not tempted by the women singing “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands." (1S 18:6, 7).

These tribulations that labored David, were not only beneficial in giving him humbleness, and in giving him toughness of men after his softness as a lad, but it also taught him prayer, and added to his flute and harp a spiritual depth that he benefited from and we did too. And his psalms became an example from which generations learnt prayers in different life circumstances.

These tribulations taught him also bearing, patience and waiting on the Lord...

Although under the tribulation pressure he was crying: How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? The English translation of that is “forever” meaning endlessly or all the time... Yet in another place he says: “Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Ps 27:14). Meaning waiting on the Lord in trust and strength and not in weakness, despair or collapse... And he shows his experience in this saying: “My soul waits for the Lord More than those who watch for the morning” (Ps 130). 

In his tribulation he says “How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily?!”. He tells his experiences in his tribulation and mentions it in front of God: in all his tiring, he had thoughts and plans in his mind about what he should do to survive his tribulation, and they were of no use to him at all... The pain was also laboring his heart without changing the reasons behind his pain and thus he was waiting on the Lord...

The Lord’s disciples were on the ship tired by the wind and waves until they got troubled and thought that the Lord forgot them as well... and they said to Him, in their tribulation: “do You not care that we are perishing?" (Mk 4:38)... It is the human weakness in the time of labor. And no doubt the Lord cared for them. So He arose and rebuked the wind and the sea, and there was a great calm...

So do not say to the Lord “Why do you forget me”!, but say: “Forgive me, O Lord, I who forget You. I forget Your love and care for me in times when tribulations are pressuring me.”

Therefore we should not bring tribulations between us and God to keep His love from us. But bring God between us and tribulations so that He keeps their pressures from us. 

He says “How long will my enemy be exalted over me?”

Truly, he who keeps looking at what his enemies do labors the most. And he better look at God who saves him from his enemies. And that is what Prophet David said in the Great Psalm: “Princes persecute me without a cause... I rejoice at Your word As one who finds great treasure” (Ps 119). Here he did not pay attention to princes’ persecution but rather got busy with God’s words so he rejoiced for it contains great treasures...

Yet David leaves those enemies aside and says: Consider and hear me, O Lord my God.

Here his situation changes completely. The phrase “Consider me” is a reply to what he said before: “How long will You hide Your face from me”. And the phrase “hear me” is a reply to what he said before “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?”.

It seems that prayer have changed him. After his mind was bound in his own counsels and his heart bound in his pain, he started looking at God and putting his worries on him so that God takes him out of his sorrows and listens to him.

And here he uses the phrase “O Lord my God”... This is the same phrase that Thomas the Apostle used when the Lord rescued him from his doubt (Jn 20:28). 

After that he says: “Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death...”

And with the phrase “Enlighten my eyes” he means his spiritual insight. As if he confesses that his insight was not enlightened when he said “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?!”.

This supplication reminds us of the story of Gehazi when he got afraid and troubled when he saw the enemies surrounding the city. Prophet Elisha then prayed for him saying: “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see that those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2K 6:16, 17).

It is faith that enlightens our eyes when they are surrounded with a fog of despair and fear so that they are unable to see God’s help that surrounds them in times of trouble.

So, David says to the Lord enlighten my eyes... Enlighten my eyes to see the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved (Ps 16:8). Enlighten my eyes to know that I have done wrong when I said “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me”!!... Enlighten my eyes to remember how you took me from being behind the sheep as a shepherd to be anointed king for your people by your prophet Samuel (1S 16). To get out of the darkness of sadness, fear and despair that I was in...

Enlighten my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death

Lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed against him". He will never prevail on me as long as I am at your sanctuary right hand. Yet I will glorify you saying: “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly. The right hand of the Lord is exalted; The right hand of the Lord does valiantly. I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of the Lord.” (Ps 118:15-17). Then I will never say “How long will my enemy be exalted over me?!” but rather say: “I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation” (Ps 118) “They have bowed down and fallen; But we have risen and stand upright” (Ps 20:8). 

Enemies surround David but now he is not afraid of them because he trusts in God who will not give him as prey to their teeth (Ps 124:6). Therefore he says:

“Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved. But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation”... Here he looks to his current circumstances in a practically realistic way, seeing that: half of the truth is that some are causing his troublesome and rejoicing for his falling and the other half of it is that he trusted in God’s mercy that He will save him...

He sees this salvation and rejoices ...

The end of the psalm is full of joy and salvation which is totally opposite to the way it began. The bible was truthful when it said: “The end of a thing is better than its beginning” (Ec 7:8).

And on the occasion of this phrase, we remember a similar story, in its beginning and its ending, which is the story of the righteous Joseph... 

The story of the righteous Joseph started with pain, for his brothers has envied him and conspired against him, they cast him in a pit, then pulled him out and sold him to Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver, then he was sold in Egypt to Potiphar (Gn 37).

And in spite of the fact the Joseph was successful and loved in the house of Potiphar, another conspiracy was set against him and he was put into prison (Gn 39).

And in prison, Joseph stayed many years. As if he was saying the phrase prophet David said “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?...”.

But the Lord did not forget Joseph and He prepared two dreams to Egypt’s Pharaoh that Joseph interpreted. And he became: “A father to Pharaoh, 

and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.” (Gn 45:8). And he became the second man in the kingdom “and without his consent no man may lift his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” (Gn 41:44). And his brothers came and bowed down before him.

And the end of his story became better than its beginning. As if he says to the Lord as David said “My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me”. 

This psalm in also said in spiritual tribulations; while the believer feels that the Lord has forsaken him in his spiritual life and the enemy had triumph over me.

When thoughts and ugly lusts have triumph over him, and he falls and do not know how to rise and “the evil he wills not to do, that he practices” and “sees another law in his members, warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin which is in his members” (Ro 7:19, 23). Then, he cries to God and says: “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?...“

When he sees his adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1P 5:8)... At that time he says: “Consider and hear me, O Lord my God; Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed against him".” 

The psalm gives us joy in hoping in God no matter how bad things get.

And no matter how weak our spiritual life starts, and how sad and desperate, God will work for our salvation, if we trusted in Him. And if we said to Him: “Consider and hear me...”. At that time, grace will work on us and we will respond to its work. And we will sing to the name of the Lord who is our benefactor and chant to the name of the Lord Most High. Alleluia. 

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"How easy it is for your aim to change along the way unless you stay watchful" - H.H. Pope Shenouda III #coptic #orthodox #vigilant #watchful

 

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