This psalm is attributed to David and evidently relates to a very difficult period in his life. This could have been during the time he was seriously ill and his son Absalom plotted to depose him as king.
Apparently David had reached a point of despair because of having long endured his affliction. In his anxiety, he asked whether YHWH would forget him indefinitely. Without any apparent evidence of divine help, care, and blessing, David wondered how long YHWH would continue to “hide” or “turn” (Septuagint) his face from him, not looking upon him compassionately and bringing relief.
Both the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint use the expression “set counsels in my soul.” This may mean that David felt he had been left to his own resources to deal with the trying situation and asked how much longer this would be. Translators have variously rendered the Hebrew. “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts”? (NIV) “How long must I carry sorrow on my soul”? (NAB) “How long must I bear pain in my soul”? (NRSV) “How long will I have cares on my mind”? (Tanakh)
The intensity of his suffering is reflected in his continuing to raise questions. How long shall I bear sorrow in “my heart” (my deep inner self) all day, every day? How long shall my “enemy” (probably collectively of all hostile ones) be exalted over me? If David was laid low by illness, his antagonists would have been in a stronger position and just waiting for him to die. (Compare Psalm 41:5-7[6-8].)
David begged YHWH to consider his hopeless situation, responding to his appeal. Although feeling that he had been abandoned, he did not lose faith. In referring to YHWH as “my God,” David indicated that his relationship to YHWH was a personal one.
On account of intense pain and grief, his eyes would have been dull and downcast. Therefore, David pleaded that YHWH would brighten his eyes, lifting his spirits, and not allow him to plunge into the sleep of death. His concern was that all those hating him (literally, his “enemy”) might say that they had gained the upper hand and would maliciously rejoice that he had been “shaken,” fallen into a state from which recovery was impossible.
Although the weight of the affliction was apparently more than David believed he could continue to bear, he drew strength from his unshakable faith. This faith enabled him to see beyond the bleak situation. He trusted in YHWH’s loyalty (Hebrew, chésed) or compassion (Greek, éleos), confident that his “heart” (his deep inner self) would yet experience rejoicing because of being delivered from his trying circumstances. Probably because of having experienced divine help in the past and possibly also on account of what his faith allowed him to anticipate, David purposed to raise his voice in song to YHWH, appreciating that he had been good to him. The extant text of the Septuagint reads, “I will sing to the Lord, to the One benefiting me, and I will strum to the name of the Lord, the Most High.”
The Hebrew expression that possibly designates a “musical director” or “leader” is rendered “to the end” in the Septuagint. See Psalm 9.
Regarding chésed and éleos, see Psalm 5.
For a discussion of the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.