*Biblical Hope and Help for our Darkest and Lowest Times (Psalm 119:81-88)*
/Preached by Pastor Phil Layton at Gold Country Baptist Church on December 28, 2008/
Our study today brings us to the halfway point of this Psalm, verses 81-88, the eleventh stanza out of twenty-two stanzas in this long and amazing tribute to Scripture, which has one stanza for each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
I have been calling this Psalm the Grand Canyon of Scripture, and as we continue to descend, this section is the lowest point we have seen so far in the emotions of the original writer.
At the very middle of this chapter, he is in the midst of the lowest part of the darkest valley in his journey through this canyon.
How the Lord got him through and brought him back to the light and to begin ascending again on the other side, how this believer was sustained by hope and help for his faith in the lowest and darkest times of life -- I trust will encourage us through whatever God has for us this next year and beyond.
*Psalm 119:81-88 (NASB95) 81 **My soul languishes for Your salvation; I wait for Your word.** **82 **My eyes fail /with longing /for Your word, While I say, “When will You comfort me?”** **83 **Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Your statutes.**
**84 **How many are the days of Your servant?
When will You execute judgment on those who persecute me?** **85 **The arrogant have dug pits for me, /Men /who are not in accord with Your law.** **86 **All Your commandments are faithful; They have persecuted me with a lie; help me!** **87 **They almost destroyed me on earth, But as for me, I did not forsake Your precepts.**
**88 **Revive me according to Your lovingkindness, So that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth.*
The heading of this section in your Bible is the word /Kaph, /that is the letter of the Hebrew alphabet that each verse begins with in this Hebrew poetic acrostic.
Some of the writers from many centuries ago believed ‘that for the ancients there was often significance in the shape of the Hebrew letters … /Kaph /is a curved letter, similar to a half circle, and it was often thought of as a hand held out to receive some gift or blessing.
Here the author is in need, and he knows that the only one who can answer his need is God [so] he holds out his hand toward him as a supplicant.
That is all any of us can do.
We can hold out empty hands.
If we hold out hands filled with our own good works [and self-centered treasures], there is no way God can fill them.
But if we hold out empty hands, God will fill them, to the praise of the glory of His great grace.’
*Biblical Hope in Our Darkest Times (v. 81-83)*
The word “hope” comes at the end of v. 81 (“hope” or “wait” depending on your translation) and this hope is what carries him in verses 81-83.
Believers may feel helpless at times, but they should never feel hopeless.
We are not like the rest of the world, who have no hope in times of great darkness and difficulty.
But believers /do experience/ dark and discouraging times, as this passage testifies.
Under this first point, there will be two sub-points that sum up verses 81-83.
The first I want to draw your attention to is:
*/The Darkness He Struggles In/*
The first two words “my soul” in v. 81 alert us that this is a spiritual struggle.
The word /nephesh /speaks of the self or it’s often translated “person,” referring most commonly to the entire inner person, sometimes translated as /heart/ or /mind/ or simply /life/.
This struggle is a dark inward soul struggle in these first 3 verses, and in vs. 84-88 we will see his outward struggle as well towards others.
In those verses the persecution and threat is physical and literal, while in verses 81-83 it is spiritual, but just as real.
Both inner man and outer man struggle in “this present darkness,” as Frank Peretti might say.
In the first half our text, the first half of each verse shows one struggling in “the depths of despair” as Anne Shirley might say, or in “the slough of despond” as John Bunyan might say, or as a boxing announcer might say, he’s been knocked down, but not knocked out.
His eyes are hurting in v. 82, but still looking for victory, not ready to throw the towel in.
And in v. 81 his soul is hurting but still hoping in God’s Word and salvation.
Verse 81 says “my soul languishes” or your Bible may say “faints” (NKJV) or “faints with longing” (NIV) or one translation (/NET Bible/) has “desperately longs for” with the footnote: lit.
/my soul pines for/.
/ /He’s longing or languishing to the point of fainting or blacking out, and that same Heb.
root word begins verse 82 and 87.
82 “my eyes fail /with longing/” (same root as the languishing or fainting in v. 81), or your Bible may say “/with searching/” (NKJV), or “grow weary” (HCSB), or “grow tired” (NET).
A similar idea:
Lamentations 2:11 (NASB95) 11 *My eyes fail because of tears, My spirit is greatly troubled; My heart is poured out* on the earth Because of the destruction of the daughter of my people, When little ones and infants *faint* …
/NET Bible Notes /says the writer of Psalm 119 ‘has intently kept his eyes open, looking for God to intervene, but now his eyes are watery and bloodshot, impairing his vision.’
In verse 83, the metaphor now includes smoke, which also makes it hard to see.
When will this smoke of v. 83 clear?
Look at the text – he’s like a bottle in the smoke (don’t think glass, back then they used animal skins).
We might not use the exact same expression today, but in our vernacular we might say he feels hung out to dry, he’s got smoke in his eyes, feeling the heat rising, in a fiery trial.
The expression of v. 83 has been summed up as his thinking that
‘Everything had gone against him.
He was in the thick of the battle.
There was a haze about him, like smoke rising from a smouldering fire.
He could not see or think clearly.
He appeared to be in the midst of the conflict, so that he considered that he was hanging above the fire, and likened himself unto a bottle in the smoke.
His face was lined, his skin was wrinkled and shriveled, his countenance was blackened by the soot; he had about reached the place of [dark] despair.’
This is the darkest part of this journey through the Grand Canyon of Psalms, as I said before.
The shadows are looming in the valley depths and he cannot see the sun.
It is now night in the middle of this psalm, /midnight/ spiritually-speaking, and the canyon walls around him obscure his vision of the heavens, and clouds obscure his view of the moon and stars, and clouds bring rain and storms.
So in the cold and dark of the night he builds a fire, but no matter where he sits around the fire the smoke keeps going in his face (I seem to have that talent around campfires, too, wherever I move the smoke keeps following me).
Now he really can’t see, to add insult to injury, to add despondency to discouragement.
He feels like the guy in a dark tunnel, who at last sees the light at the end of the tunnel … only to realize it’s the light of an oncoming train.
This is the type of darkness this man is struggling in and lamenting of.
From a pessimistic or even merely human viewpoint, this is a desperate and discouraging strait.
Spurgeon sums up his emotional state as ‘weary with waiting, faint with watching, sick with urgent need … [he goes on to expound the imagery of v. 83:] ‘The skins used for containing wine, when emptied, were hung up in the tent, and when the place reeked with smoke the skins grew black and soot[-covered], and in the heat they became wrinkled and worn.
The Psalmist's face through sorrow had become dark and dismal, furrowed and lined; indeed, his whole body had so sympathized with his sorrowing mind as to have lost its natural moisture, and to have become like a skin dried and tanned.
His character had been smoked with slander [cf.
v. 86], and his mind parched with persecution [v.
84-85]; he was half afraid that he would become useless and incapable through so much mental suffering, and that men would look upon him as an old worn out skin bottle [like Jesus said you wouldn’t use for wine, old wineskins] hold nothing and answer no purpose.
What a metaphor for a man to use who was certainly a poet, a divine, and a master in Israel, if not a king, and a man after God's own heart!
It is little wonder if we, common [people], are made to think very little of ourselves, and are filled with distress of mind.
Some of us know the inner meaning of this simile, for we, too, have felt … worthless, only fit to be cast away.
Very black and hot has been the smoke which has enveloped us … and it had a clinging power which made the soot of it fasten upon us and blacken us with miserable thoughts …
[but thankfully v. 83 doesn’t end there, he says he does not forget God and His Word.
To borrow the words of one hymn: /when through fiery trials my pathway shall lie, God’s grace all-sufficient shall be my supply, the flame shall not hurt me, God only designs the dross to consume and the gold to refine.
… Blackened the man of God might be by falsehood, but the truth was in him, and he never gave it up … The worst circumstances cannot destroy the true believer's hold upon his God.
Grace is a living power which survives that which would suffocate all other forms of existence.
Fire cannot consume it, and smoke cannot smother it … all his comfort may be dried out of him, and yet he may hold fast his integrity and glorify his God … [No wonder] that in such a case the eyes … tormented with the smoke cry out for the Lord's delivering hand, and the heart heated and faint longs for the divine salvation.’
/This leads to the second part of these verses, from the darkness he struggles in, now to /
*/The Deliverance He Seeks/*
*81 **My soul languishes for Your salvation*
The word for “salvation” here has the sense of deliverance, and is typically used in the context of military conflict.
This is fitting, because the Christian life is not a playground, but a battleground.
It’s also significant that this salvation ~/ deliverance ~/ victory usually was not obtained through human means (Ps.
33:17; Ps. 108:12; Ps. 146:3; Prov.
21:31), and that’s true spiritually as well.
Notice in v. 81 that this salvation, this victory over languishing despair will only come by the hope-producing Word
81 (NKJV) “My soul faints for your *salvation*, but I *hope* in Your *Word*”
The words “hope” and “salvation” and the “Word” are also used in battle imagery of a soldier withstanding by the full armor of God. 1 Thessalonians 5:8 speaks of putting on “as a helmet, *the hope of salvation,*” and Ephesians 6:17 says it this way: “take the helmet of *salvation*, *and the sword* of the Spirit, which is *the word of God.*”
Christians of every age have found deliverance from darkness in the Sword of Scripture.
One preacher tells of ‘a missionary to Korea, Harold Vokel, recounting his work among prisoners of war during the conflict there.
He saw thousands of these young men come to Christ.
As they were discipled in the internment camps, one book of the Bible drew them without fail.
It was the Book of Revelation, which some memorized in its entirety.
This book is for the suffering church.
In the midst of war and loss, its pages gave them comfort and hope.
The final victory belonged to the Lamb who became a Lion.
As these prisoners fainted for God’s salvation, they continued to hope in His Word’ like Psalm 119:81.
Romans 8:24 (NASB95) 24 For *in hope we have been saved*, but *hope that is seen is not hope*; for who hopes for what he /already /sees?