Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
In this short poem we see the power of lyric expression for rapid changes of emotion. In the compass of three short stanzas, decreasing in length as they proceed, we have an alternation from the deepest despair to the profoundest peace. Perhaps here is the record of an eventful period of David’s life, when he had to make a hundred shifts to escape from Saul, and feared often to close his eyes, lest he should never awake alive. But Psalm 13:3 sounds rather like the cry of one suffering from sickness. All we can be certain about is that the psalm is intense in its record of personal feeling.
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?(1) How long? . . . for ever?—Comp. Psalm 74:10; Psalm 79:5; Psalm 89:46. The double question in the Authorised Version is unnecessary, though, as M. Renan (Les Langues Sémitiques, 2 § 4) explains, it shows how ill writing the poet has begun on one plan, and finished on another. (Comp. Psalm 9:3.) Translate, “How long wilt thou continue to forget 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?(2) Take counsel.—Literally, put plans unto my soul. The plans (LXX., βουλὰς) formed in the mind turn to sorrows as they are frustrated. It is, however, so doubtful whether nephesh can stand for the mind, that it is better to render, how long shall I form plans against my soul (having) sorrow in my heart all the day? The next verse confirms the suspicion that suicide had been in the psalmist’s mind.
Daily.—There is a doubt about this rendering; but so Symmachus, and many moderns, relying on Ezekiel 30:16, “distresses daily.”
Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;(3) Lighten.—Literally, give light to my eyes that I may not go to sleep in death, i.e., go to sleep and never wake; “sleep unto death,” as the LXX. (Comp. for the nature of the fear, Psalm 6:5; and for the form of expression, 1Samuel 14:27; 1Samuel 14:29.)
But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.(5) But I.—Emphatic, but as for me. The most complete peace has taken the place of the despair with which the psalm opens. The rhythm of the Hebrew seems to express the restfulness of the thought. “It hath a dying fall.” The LXX. and Vulg. (comp. the Prayer Book version) have an additional clause not found in any MS., “Yea, I will praise the name of the Lord most high.”