What was the psalmist going through at the time he wrote this? What does it mean to “wait on the Lord”? Do I wait on the Lord, or am I waiting on the Lord?
I have read that the Hebrew, literally translated, is “in waiting I waited.” The Lord drew the psalmist upon from a “desolate pit,” or—in Hebrew—“a pit of tumult.” “Desolate” is a state of bleak and dismal emptiness, feeling or showing misery, unhappiness, or loneliness; utterly wretched and unhappy). “Tumult” is confusion, disorder. As for “pit,” I am utilizing the definition: “the very bottom of something.” “Miry” can be “thick,” or a “difficult situation.” “Bog” is a swamp, quagmire. I sense that our psalmist was in deep, deep depression, making it difficult to get his thoughts off of himself, his situation, feeling as though he was in a tar pit. Nevertheless, he understand that his situation was ordained by God, that it was for his good, for his salvation.
One commentator writes: “The beginning of this psalm is an expression of thanksgiving, in which David relates that he had been delivered, not only from danger, but also from present death. Some are of opinion, but without good reason, that it ought to be understood of sickness. It is rather to be supposed that David here comprehends a multitude of dangers from which he had escaped. He had certainly been more than once exposed to the greatest danger, even of death, so that, with good reason, he might be said to have been swallowed up in the gulf of death, and sunk in the miry clay It, nevertheless, appears that his faith had still continued firm, for he ceased not to trust in God, although the long continuance of the calamity had well nigh exhausted his patience. He tells us, not merely that he had waited, but by the repetition of the same expression, he shows that he had been a long time in anxious suspense. In proportion then as his trial was prolonged, the evidence and proof of his faith in enduring the delay with calmness and equanimity of mind was so much the more apparent. The meaning in short is: that although God delayed his help, yet the heart of David did not faint or grow weary from delay, but that after he had given, as it were, sufficient proof of his patience, he was at length heard. In his example there is set before us this very useful doctrine, that although God may not forthwith appear for our help, but rather of design keep us in suspense and perplexity, yet we must not lose courage, inasmuch as faith is not thoroughly tried, except by long endurance. The result, too, of which he speaks in terms of praise, ought to inspire us with increased fortitude. God may succor us more slowly than we desire, but, when he seems to take no notice of our condition, or, if we might so speak, when he seems to be inactive or to sleep, this is totally different from deceit: for if we are enabled by the invincible strength and power of faith to endure, the fitting season of our deliverance will at length arrive.”
It is necessary to apply this to our Lord Jesus Christ because the Old Testament is about Him. I think that our minds would initially go to our Lord praying in the Garden of Gethsemine. This is true, but I do not think it entails only that since this was a period of hours, not days. I think it would be more accurate to say it began when our Lord set His face toward Jerusalem, when His “hour” had come. Perhaps—and this is how I am leaning—it began at His baptism. In all the instances the Gospels refer to Jesus going out by Himself to pray, what was He praying about? Probably, us—the human race, but also strength, courage. Jesus was wholly God, yet He was wholly man. I think His “desolate pit,” “miry bog,” culminated in the Garden. Hence, in waiting, Jesus waited. At His resurrection, His feet were set upon a rock, His steps made secure.
In His prayers, let us look at what He did not pray for. He did not pray for health, wealth, and prosperity; He did not pray for long life on this earth. Yes, He healed the sick and raised the dead; this was to show His divinity and what was going to occur to those who trusted in Him. St. Luke tells us: “One of the multitude said to him, ‘Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’.” If our Lord’s “in waiting He waited” began at Baptism, likewise my “in waiting we wait” began then also. Many times I have an enormous problem: I am not waiting. Too often I allow circumstances and things of the world to let me forget holiness, to forget my goal. I forget that God is looking at my salvation, what is good for me. I forget Psalm 16: “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yes, I have a goodly heritage. I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your godly one see the Pit. You show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.”
The “pit” is this world, this “life.” Too often I am distracted by the tumult of this world. It causes confusion, causing me to lose sight of my goal, forgetting that I am a pilgrim, journeying to our Father’s country. I fall into confusion by desiring “the good life” now, desiring the “low” happiness over the “high” happiness.
This theological reflection courtesy of the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida: stpaulcatholic.net