Desperate Times Call for Faithful Dependence – Psalm 119:81-88 (כ)
“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.”
Have you ever wondered if you’re the only Christian who is sick and tired of living in a sin cursed world? Are there times when you wished that the Lord would choose today to call His bride home? Have you ever grown tired of putting on a brave face and stiff upper lip and just wanted to cry out to God how much longer?! This stanza is a “where the rubber meets the road” sort of text. What we have here is a genuine lament where the psalmist just pours out his heart before the Lord and calls things like he sees them. Maybe you can’t relate to what I described, but the psalmist sure can.
There’s a noticeable change in this stanza. Just eight verses ago the psalmist was praying for God’s grace and mercy (vv. 76-77), praising God for His righteousness and praying for His justice (vv. 75&78), asking to become a viable example to the watching faithful (vv. 74&79), and requesting discernment and holiness (vv. 73&80). His focus was forward. He was about to grab the bull by the horns and was praying in such a way to zero in on what he desperately needed most. But now he’s tired. He’s tired of waiting.
Impatient for God’s Restoration (vv. 81-84)
“My soul languishes for Your salvation; I wait for Your word. My eyes fail with longing for Your word, While I say, “When will You comfort me?”
Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Your statutes.
How many are the days of Your servant? When will You execute judgment on those who persecute me?”
The first two verses of this stanza communicate the same idea. The English terms languish and fail translate the same Hebrew verb (כלה). It basically means to come to an end but depending on the context this word can carry a couple of different ideas. In a positive context it can refer to the end of a period of time or activity. The word is first seen on the pages of scripture in Genesis 2:1 to describe the completed work of the heavens and the earth. It appears again in Exodus 39:32 to simply describe the conclusion of the work on the tabernacle and again in 1 Kings 6:38 to describe the finished work of the temple (there’s a connection between all these texts, but we’ll save that for a later date).
Yet the context here is not positive at all. In fact, this word is most often used to describe a person, period of time, or a people coming to an end with the idea of destruction or obliteration. The psalmist is saying in the most straightforward of terms that his soul (the totality of his person to include both physical life and immaterial spirit) and his eyes are at an end, finished, used up, and utterly exhausted. He is completely used up and is languishing as he waits for God’s salvation and looks for the fulfillment of His promise (אמרה/promise is used in v. 2). To put it plainly: he’s at the end of his rope.
This is not all doom and gloom. The last line of v. 81 states that despite his desperation he continues to wait (or hope) in God’s Word. He has not become an apostate. But he is certainly growing impatient. When will You comfort me?
Notice what he’s asking. Was not the idea of comfort at the heart of the previous stanza? O may Your lovingkindness comfort me, according to Your word to Your servant (v. 76). There’s an underlying trust that God will assuredly bring this comfort, but when? How long must he wait for God to fulfill His promise to redeem the nation of Israel, establish justice and righteousness, and undo and reverse the curse?
In case we’re tempted to think that our psalmist is overreacting, he gives us a vivid picture of his circumstances in v. 83. A wineskin is nothing more than a leather water bottle, probably made from a tanned and conditioned animal stomach. In order to remain useful, the leather needs to maintain its elasticity.
Smoke has been used for centuries in many ways but is often used to wick away moisture. The reason primitive people all over the world smoke meat is to preserve it. It’s common knowledge that where there is no moisture or oxygen there is also no rot. So, what would happen to a leather water bottle after prolonged exposure to smoke? It would become dry and crack, rendering it virtually useless.
That is the picture of our psalmist. He likens himself to a wineskin that is left beside the fire to smoke. He has been left out to dry, consumed by his adversaries, and is now cracked and dry beyond use or recognition. With this statement comes yet another bold claim of his resilient faithfulness.
I do not forget Your statutes.
Even as he hangs beside the fire to suffocate in the smoke, he remembers the rules and regulations written down in stone by the finger of God. He is like Job who even now holds on to his integrity. It is not that he is tempted to apostatize, to curse God and die. He knows that his redeemer lives and that at the last He will take His stand on the earth. It’s that he grows impatient waiting for Him.
How many are the days of Your servant? When will You execute judgment on those who persecute me?
The first question in v. 84 reflects the brevity of his own life. A wooden translation might be How few are the days of Your servant? The idea is that he knows that his life is but a vapor, that he is like the grass of the field which is here today and gone tomorrow. This is a rhetorical question and the point is: what are you waiting for?! When are You going to execute judgment upon those who persecute me?!
His impatience grows to a climax here. To the ancient Israelite who was living under the Mosaic Covenant, there was a strong connection between tangible blessings (seasonal rains, peace from enemies, abundant harvest) and the nations faithfulness to Yhwh. Likewise, when these blessings were not there, it was an indication that the nation was in rebellion against Yhwh. Twice already the psalmist has made plain that he is living in faithfulness to Yhwh. He is living with expectancy for His Word and he continues to remember and obey His statutes. So why is God not saving him? Why is God not protecting him? Does God not know that his time on earth is short? Where is God in my time of trouble? Lord, when will You put an end to sin and rebellion and execute Your righteous judgment upon the earth?
The question is left unanswered for now. But the psalmist continues to justify his impatience by explaining his desperation.
Desperate for God’s Restoration (vv. 85-87)
“The arrogant have dug pits for me, Men who are not in accord with Your law.
All Your commandments are faithful; They have persecuted me with a lie; help me!
They almost destroyed me on earth, But as for me, I did not forsake Your precepts.”
Once again, the psalmist refers to his enemies as those who are arrogant, proud, insolent, or presumptuous. Those who are overly confident in themselves and have no fear of God before their eyes. They are actively trying to trap our psalmist.
The idea of digging pits (notice the plural there) paints the picture of the hunter or trapper trying to ensnare his prey. They make it their business to lay traps for our psalmist. This conduct, in both motive and means, is utterly against God’s instruction (Torah). They are in complete contrast to God’s own holy character. While His commands are faithful (true and trustworthy), they doggedly pursue the psalmist with a lie.
It is from that stark contrast, the reality that God is faithful and his enemies are not that this urgent plea comes; help me! This is a distress call of the highest order. This is akin to an army commander giving the order Broken Arrow! A call that indicates his position is overrun and he is unable to organize an orderly retreat. Like Custer’s 7th Cavalry, our psalmist is overcome and overrun by his adversaries. Help me!
The next line grows darkest before it finally reveals the light of the coming dawn. The enemies were nearly successful in their objective, to eradicate our psalmist from the land. It is possible to understand the Hebrew term ha-eretz (הארץ) generally, as in the earth or specifically, as in THE Promised Land of Israel. The second option has significant covenant implications: they desire to cut our psalmist off from the land of promise and thus blot out his name from God’s inheritance. Either way, the point remains that they want to kill him, and they were nearly successful in doing so. Even in the face of this clear and present danger, the psalmist remains faithful. Yet I, even I have not forsaken Your step-by-step procedures.
Even in the face of unprecedented danger, retreat and surrender are not up for discussion. What is needed now is complete and total dependence upon the only One who can help.
Dependent upon God’s Restoration (v. 88)
“Revive me according to Your lovingkindness, So that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth.”
We’ve seen this request before (vv. 25, 37, 40, and 50). The request is built upon the verb meaning to live but the form here is so much more powerful than a request to preserve my life or restore my life. The sense is more like renew my life or make me live or even better yet breathe life into me and bring me back from the dead! The request is not for a comforting shoulder hug, but for God to pull him out of the deep.
Each time that request was made the psalmist usually modified it and supported it through God’s own testimony; i.e. according to Your word/in Your ways/Your word has revived me. Yet here the psalmist does not appeal to the Word of God, but to the very nature and character of God: according to Your lovingkindness.
I think we need to be clear on a few things. It is not accurate to say that the psalmist overlooks God’s Word and asks for something that His Word does not support. Rather, it is that he knows God so intimately through His Word that he knows God’s character and nature and can therefore appeal to God’s person. Revive me O Yhwh. Give me life as in accordance with Your loyal love, Your unmeasurable grace. He has nowhere left to turn and so he turns to the only One who can give life.
Yet this dependence upon God is still mission minded: So that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth. There are two things we need to understand about this final statement. First, the psalmist knows that his ability to obey is completely contingent on God’s gracious gift of life. His own faithfulness testifies more to God’s glory and grace more than his own tenacity. Second, the mission of the psalmist is to steadfastly and faithfully obey regardless of his circumstances.
We are used to seeing these synonyms for Scripture being given in the plural (judgments, commands, precepts, testimonies, etc.). Here we see a singular testimony. This indicates the singular and total declaration of all that God has said. Note where it comes from; the mouth of God.
“All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your forefathers. And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.” – Deuteronomy 8:1-3
After studying and meditating on this text all week, I find myself in a similar frame of mind as the psalmist. I am tired of this evil and perverse generation. I am weary of sin. I long for God’s plan of redemption to be fully realized with King Jesus reigning on David’s throne. I desire to see the nations bring forth from their treasures and lay them at Jesus’ feet. I am so tired and weary of living under the curse.
I can truly sympathize with the apostles when they asked Jesus, Lord, is it at this time that You will restore the kingdom to Israel? That wasn’t just a question about national pride. They wanted to know if Jesus was about to completely destroy the curse and all its implications. Is it at this time that You will smash rebellion with a rod of iron and rain down righteousness upon the earth?
Is this not a good question? Is this not what all believers long for? But how did Jesus respond? He did not rebuke them for asking silly questions but gave them proper focus. “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” – Acts 1:7-8
Believer, God the Holy Spirit has already come upon us. Let us not worry about the fulfillment of God’s plan which He has already fixed and set in stone. Let us busy ourselves with being faithful witnesses until He returns for us. Come quickly Lord Jesus! – Soli Deo Gloria!