The psalm was composed during a time when God’s people were enduring strong derision. This was not a pleasant experience and the people of God were not expected to cope with it in a stoical manner. Instead they were to take their distress to God. A stoical attitude is often an expression of confidence in one’s own ability to cope with a difficult situation and is not a commendable response as far as spiritual matters are concerned.
Today we face a similar situation. The Christian faith is despised as foolishness by the intellectuals in our society and ignored as useless by most of the rest. Christians feel weak and are reluctant to stand out for Christ, not because they are going to be physically assaulted but because they are going to be derided. We are regarded as relics from a past that society has gladly forgotten. It is not easy to be mocked, which means that this psalm is of great relevance for us because that is the scenario with which it deals.
Obviously the psalm encourages us to pray in such times. Using the imagery of a master and slaves the author of the psalm leads us to confess God’s sovereignty. Dark times are a good time to do this.
Further, the imagery points us to the hand of God. The male and female slaves in a household would stand in a room with their eyes permanently on their owner’s hand. It was usual for the owner to beckon commands rather than to vocalise them, therefore it was very important for their hands to be observed. In general, their hands gave provision (shared food from the table), gave direction (indicated actions to be done), gave protection, and gave discipline (punished a disobedient slave). Each of these has parallels to how God deals with his people.
So the author takes this imagery and says that what the humble slaves of God desire is mercy. It is not so much mercy for their sins, although believers often ask for mercy in this sense. Rather they want mercy to be shown by the removal of the sources of contempt. How God will answer is his prerogative.
Those believers had holy resolution. They were not going to stop praying until God delivered them. Their prayers were simultaneously persistent and patient. This is how we show we are putting God first – we bring the matter to him and plead humbly and expectedly with him until he answers. The Lord is full of pity towards us and he will listen sympathetically to such a cry. Eventually he will answer if we persist in our prayers.