The victim's joy

  1. To the choirmaster, a psalm to David.
  2. How long, Yahweh, will You forget Me ? Forever ? How long will You hide Your Face from Me ?
  3. How long will I make designs in My soul ? There is sorrow in My heart now.
    How long will My enemy have the upper hand ?
  4. Consider Me, hear Me, Yahweh My God ! Be the light of My eyes for fear that I fall asleep in death.
  5. For fear that My enemy say : I have prevailed against Him; for fear that My oppressors exult, since I have been shaken.
  6. As for Me, I have My hope in Your mercy; My Heart will exult in Your Salvation. I shall sing to Yahweh because He takes vengeance on Me.
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PSALM 13 was dedicated « to the choirmaster », David, his father.

VERSE 2. Exposed to contradiction, to the scoffing of the impious who say : « God has forgotten, He has hidden His Face, He never sees anything » (Ps 10.11), the Messiah turns to Yahweh. Truly, He knows well that Yahweh will not forget Him : « For it is not forever that the poor man is forgotten; the waiting of the humble will one day come to an end ! » (Ps 9.19)

But Yahweh is hidden, He seems absent from Jerusalem when the exiles return, as Psalms 6 and 7 lament. Here as well the Psalmist renews his prayer : « Lift up the light of Your Face upon us, O Yahweh ! » (Ps 4.7)

VERSE 3. The word « design », in Hebrew “ ’êšâh ” names God’s plan. The impious did not believe in it in Jerusalem, in the time of Isaiah. They said mockingly : « Quick ! let Him hasten His work for us to see it; let the designs of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and be accomplished that we may know them. » (Is 5, 19)

God’s answer was punishment, the Exile in Babylon during which Yahweh promised through the mouth of the second Isaiah, “ the Unknown of the Exile ” : « I announce from the beginning what must occur; I announce in advance what has not yet happened. I say, My design shall be effected; I shall accomplish what pleases me. » (Is 46.10)

But what God awaits to put His plan into effect is Israel’s conversion : « Sinners, make a heartfelt conversion. » (Is 46.8) Yet, the Psalmist finds only « sorrow » when he recalls, in accord with the Prophet’s recommendation, the divine promises that fill his soul : « Recall the things that happened long ago. I am God without equal, God who has no peer ! » (Is 46.9)

In the time of the Exile, God’s “ design ” consisted of Cyrus’s victorious campaign. He was « the predestined man » through whom, « a plan just barely made is all but accomplished ! No sooner said than done ! » Yahweh promised those who lost heart, « I shall establish salvation on Sion, I shall give My glory to Israel. » (Is 46.11-13)

And yet we know from the preceding psalms that return from the Exile did not put an end to trials.

4. Consider Me, hear Me, Yahweh My God ! Be the light of My eyes for fear that I fall asleep in death.

Although the sleep mentioned in Psalm 4 was the sleep of the just who enjoyed peace with God (Ps 4.9), here it is dreaded as the sign of death. Well, just after the Galilaeans were deported in 732 following the campaign of Teglat-Phalasar III, king of Assyria, God had promised that an infant of royal blood would bring deliverance : « The people who walked in shadows have seen a great light. » (Is 9.1)

The years passed, and there was no deliverance. Salmanasar, Teglat-Phalasar’s son and successor, attacked Samaria. The town fell after a three-year siege, at the beginning of the reign of Salmanasar’s successor, Sargon II (721-705). He deported the inhabitants of Samaria.

And yet, two hundred years later, after the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of its inhabitants in Babylon, the flame of hope was still alive. It was expressed in the songs of the “ Servant ” whom Yahweh promised to send « to open the eyes of the blind, to cause captives to leave imprisonment and those who live in shadows to depart from their prison. » (Is 42.7) :

Yes, but at what a price ! « If He offers His life as an expiatory sacrifice, He will see a posterity, He will lengthen His days, and the will of Yahweh will be accomplished through Him. Following the trial that His soul will undergo, He will see the light and will be filled with blessings. » (Is 53.10-11)

Our psalm renews this appeal to « the light » that was promised by these Messianic prophecies in virtue of the resurrection of Jerusalem. It was written about Jerusalem that Yahweh Himself would become its light :

« You will no longer have the sun as your light, your day; the brightness of the moon will no longer give you light. But Yahweh will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your beauty. Your sun will no longer set, and your moon will no longer disappear, for Yahweh will be your everlasting light and the days of your mourning will be finished. » (Is 60.19-20)

5. For fear that My enemy say : I have prevailed against Him; for fear that My oppressors exult, since I have been shaken.

The adversary’s joy would be a sacrilegious joy, were Yahweh to allow him to triumph. In fact, the Hebrew verb “ gyl ” that is used here ordinarily means the joy that fills the hearts of the faithful on the day of the coming of the Messiah. Even though the impious man is called « unshakeable, from age to age » (Ps 10.6), the Psalmist acknowledges : « I have been shaken ». And yet he is not crestfallen :

6. As for Me, I have My hope in Your mercy, My heart will exult in Your Salvation. I shall sing to Yahweh because He takes vengeance on Me.

This verse is already the Magnificat in outline form. The Psalmist’s confidence is, in fact, based on the mercy that is shown from age to age (Lc 1.50), ever since God revealed it to Moses as His own name, so to speak, on Mt. Sinai : « Yahweh, God of tenderness and devotion, slow to anger, rich in mercy and faithfulness. » (Ex 34.6; cf. Ps 5.8; 6.5) This explains the sudden joy that follows the sorrow of the beginning (v. 3), and that supplants the sacrilegious joy of the impious.

« My heart will exult in Your Salvation », bîshû’atèkha, could have been translated : « in your Jesus » (cf. Lc 1.47)

Why is there this sudden Messianic exultation ? « Because He takes vengeance on me », gâmalâlây. In the Bible, the Hebrew verb “ gâmal ” is used to designate Yahweh’s retribution in accord with each person’s deeds, a just reciprocation for both the faithful (2 S 22.21) and the impious : « If you take vengeance upon Me, I shall very quickly cause it to fall back on your own heads ! » (Jl 4, 4). This is the lex talionis. Well ! the Psalmist applies it here in two senses to the righteous Suffering Servant. Since He is innocent of any sin, if He suffers it is because He has offered Himself for the redemption of His people, as the Unknown of the Exile sang : « But He has been pierced because of our crimes, crushed because of our faults... Yahweh has made fall upon Him the faults of us all. » (Is 53.5-6)


« Salvation » is Jesus, the « light of the world » (Jn 8.12). The Messiah who was promised and awaited, the Suffering Servant who redeems His people is He ! The hope of the faithful Yahwists was focused on the Messiah during the five centuries that followed their return from the Exile. As a meditation on the prophecies, the Psalmist here announces the joy of the Messiah amidst His sufferings, for He was to offer Himself as Victim for the salvation of His people.

Brother Bruno of Jesus-Mary
He is risen ! n° 51, December 2006