When I was a kid, traveling was part of our Christmas holiday. My family lived in Maryland and my grandparents lived in New York state. As soon as Christmas break arrived my parents, four siblings and I would pile into our Chevy station wagon with luggage and gifts tucked in and begin the northward trek. We would eagerly watch along way, waiting to see the first signs that there would be snow on the ground for Christmas. I can’t remember exactly how long it took us to make the trip because at that young age anything over an hour was a long time. Part way into the trip that old familiar question began to be asked, “How much longer ’til we get there?” As I grew older I became more aware of some recognizable mile-markers along the way that would clue me in as to how much time remained until we would pull into the driveway of my grandparents’ home and run into their welcoming arms.
David, the shepherd, warrior, poet, musician, and king of Israel, asked the question, “How long?” four times in Psalm 13. “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” Feeling forgotten, avoided, alone, and defeated, David cries out, “How long?”
That question pulsated like a beating heart in Israel around the time of Jesus’ birth. The Old Testament prophecies foretold the coming of Israel’s Prince of Peace and Deliverer. While many just went about the affairs of their lives and weren’t tuned into that wavelength, others were. Messianic expectation hung in the air. “How long?”
“It’s not long now,” declared John the Baptist in a manner hard to ignore. John burst on the scene in a dramatic manner raising these expectations. “He’s coming,” John said, “so get ready!” Some did. Most didn’t. As a result, their Messiah came and went and they didn’t know it. The nation missed God’s visit to earth and his thirty-three year stay in their midst. And so for Israel the cry continues, “How long?”
David’s plea expresses the feeling that God was not doing anything; that he’d forgotten David, hidden from him, left him all alone to figure out his problem, and not brought the deliverance he desperately wanted. His “how long” questions put the onus on God to do something for David, because until God did something, it sounds like David couldn’t do anything.
However, David could do something and by the end of the psalm he did. “I have trusted in Your mercy.” He remembered that God had always been merciful to him and therefore could always be trusted. “My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.” He remembered that God had saved him over and over again from his enemies and that God was the Savior of his soul, and as he thought about that, his heart rejoiced. He remembered that God had “dealt bountifully” with him, and in that truth he found reason to sing. So David went from pleading, “How long, O LORD?” to trusting, rejoicing, and singing as he remembered that God had already been very generous to him.
It’s not wrong to ask “how long?” However, in this psalm, it seems that the question is directed to the wrong person. David asked the question of God, when, perhaps, he ought to have been asking the question of himself. Like David, I can find myself asking God, “how long, O God, before you show up, help me out, and come through for me?” when maybe, it would be better to ask myself, “How long ’til I remember what God has already done for me? How long ’til I remember the mercy and salvation God has already given to me? How long ’til I remember the generous grace of God already poured out on me? How long ’til I get there?”
In this Advent season, “how long” is an appropriate question to ask and a great question upon which to meditate, but let that question go both ways — upward and inward. God is right where he needs to be doing exactly what needs to be done and he is right on schedule. How long ’til we get there?