Be Merciful to Me
(9) Be merciful to me, Yahweh, for I am in distress. My eye wastes away with grief, my soul and my body as well, (10) for my life is spent with sorrow and my years with sighing. My strength has failed because of my iniquity, and my bones have wasted away. (11) Because of all my adversaries, I have become a reproach to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances. Those who see me in the street flee from me. (12) I am forgotten like the dead out of mind. I have become like a broken vessel (of pottery), (13) for I have heard the whispering of many – terror on every side. They scheme together against me and plot to take my life.
If Psalm 31:1-8 is like the first movement of a concerto in classical music, 31:9-13 represents its contrasting second movement. Where the opening segment is bright and upbeat, written in a major key, this second segment is dark and somber, set in a gloomy minor tone. Note the synonyms which David uses to describe his situation: “I am in distress” and “eye wastes away with grief” (vs. 9), “sorrow,” “sighing,” “strength failed,” and the only repetition in the section, bones “wasted away” (vs. 9 & 10).
The psalmist continues by vividly showing how others viewed him: as a reproach and an object of dread to be avoided (vs. 11), as someone to be forgotten like the dead (vs.12), like a broken piece of pottery (vs. 12), and as a victim of terror and life-threatening plots (vs. 13). Things could hardly get much worse than this.
We cry out to God for mercy
- when we are feeling totally devastated (9 & 10)
- when others abandon us or target us for attack (11-13)
When feeling devastated, abandoned, or targeted for attack, we are left with only one option, to cry out to God for his mercy.
There’s an amusing website on the internet called, “You know you’re having a bad day when...” Here are some of the suggested ways to complete that phrase: when the evening news is describing evacuation routes out of your city; when the bird singing outside your window is a vulture; when your horn sticks on the freeway behind a pack of Hell’s Angels; when your twin sister forgets your birthday. David was having a bad day when he wrote this segment of Psalm 31. His life felt as though it were falling apart, as though everyone around him, his friends and his enemies, were either avoiding him or attacking him. Such times are bound to occur in the lives of every believer. What should we do, how should we cope, when we find ourselves in such a situation?
We can try all kinds of solutions such as fleeing, medicating, crisis counseling, or denying what is happening. Our world specializes in finding palliatives to ease the pain. David offers a solution in these verses that may seem old fashioned or like wishful thinking to those living in the Twenty-first Century. Yet, it is the only remedy that really works. He cried out to his God, “Be merciful to me for I am in distress.” For David, relief was only to be found by turning to the one who had, and still has, real answers for our very real problems. In our distress, if we turn to God and seek his enablement, he promises to be there to comfort and strengthen us and to give us the grace we need to endure.
Paul also knew what it was like to feel abandoned and face crushing opposition. His exhortation to the Corinthian believers can greatly encourage us: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13). If we turn to God in prayerful dependence when we feel abandoned and overwhelmed, we will find that he does come through with the help we need at just the time when we need it.