Updated: Feb 24, 2021
The Word of God is extremely practical. Even as I write this statement I am overwhelmed by how absurdly obvious that statement is, but also how many Christians profess the truth of it while living as though Scripture has no practical place in their lives. Bear with me a moment and follow my thinking.
The Bible reveals the person, character, and plan of Almighty God who is redeeming a fallen and cursed world to once again be very good. Every difficulty you have and will encounter is a result of the curse. Therefore, by definition, the correct response to every difficulty you have or will encounter is answered by the body of revelation that God has given, which displays His plan of redemption. The Bible explains the past, unveils the future, and instructs in the present. It literally does not get more practical than that. Anyone who suggests otherwise has either never read the Bible, or at least has never given it any more attention than we would a Hallmark card.
The stanza before us is a perfect example of just how practical, useful, and necessary the Word of God is to the believer. The whole stanza, the ד (Daleth) stanza, is a prayer uttered in desperation and despair. We’ve all been where this psalmist is. But when we are in the pit of despair, do we respond as the psalmist does?
Despair Turned to Dependence (vv. 25-27)
As we already stated when we explained v. 20, the soul (נפש - nephesh) speaks about more than only the immaterial portion of man but describes the totality of man. The soul is not something that man has, but describes what he is.
Recognition of Needed Dependance (v. 25) – “My soul cleaves to the dust; Revive me according to Your word.”
The word cleave (דבק) here means to stick to, cling to, be one with. This is the same word used in Genesis 2:24 – “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined (דבק) to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Man is supposed to be so close to his wife that the two are indistinguishable from each other. It is difficult to see where one begins and the other ends. Yet here the psalmist uses the same term to describe his association to the dust. The entirety of his being is glued to the dirt, the substance from whence he came (Gen. 2:7). This paints the picture of one who is fully prostrate, laid out on the ground and face down in the dirt and therefore close to death. The message is simple: he is either near death, or he wants to be.
We’re not told what the circumstances surrounding the psalmist consist of. But he reveals his level of desperation. He is done! He is face down in the dirt and is completely at his wit’s end. But from this position of complete humiliation, what is his prayer?
Revive me according to Your word.
The request is for life! The same verb was used in v. 17 when the psalmist asked God to deal with him as would be appropriate as His servant. In the pit of despair, the psalmist asks God to breath life back into him according to Your word. He is resting in the promises of God and is asking God to make good on them.
I cannot help but think of James 1:2-4 – “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Or perhaps Romans 8:28-30 – “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
Maybe we should continue reading to the end of that chapter – “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us form the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39).”
The psalmist knows that God did not redeem him only to leave him in despair. So he asks God to breathe life back into him and his weary soul just as Scripture promises.
Recognition of Yhwh’s past Faithfulness (v. 26a) – “I have told of my ways, and You have answered me.”
This is a statement of recollection. The psalmist has some time to think while he’s down in the dirt. The word here told is literally to recount. In other words, he is going over all the deeds and trials that he has experienced in the past and comes to the realization that God has never before abandoned him. You have answered me. If God could be trusted in the past, why not in the present also?
Recognition of Needed Understanding for Correct Focus (vv. 26b-27) – “Teach me Your statutes. Make me understand the way of Your precepts, So I will meditate on Your wonders.”
If you have your Bibles open, you’ll notice that this is the exact same request (Teach me Your statutes) he has already made back in v. 12. This is yet another declaration of dependence. If the promises of life are found in God’s Word, then the psalmist is eager to become a student of God’s rules and regulations. Teach them to me! Remind me of them! Make me understand the way of Your precepts.
There is a difference between learning and understanding. The idea here goes well beyond the idea of just taking in information or memorizing data to the ability to put that information into practice. The request here echoes v. 11 with the storing up of God’s promises in the seat of decision and reiterates the request in v. 18 to remove anything that inhibits or blinds him to the beauty of God’s instruction. There is only one way out of the pit of despair and the answer lies in the step-by-step instructions given by God. But the psalmist is fully dependent upon God to enable him. Teach me and help me to apply Your Word!
This last line reveals the result of God’s gracious teaching and enlightening. We should be familiar with this word mediate by now. We’ve already seen it in vv. 15 and 23. It describes a careful contemplation or a thorough reflection upon a statement or situation. We should also recall the object of reflection. Wonders is the same word used in v. 18, the term that describes the mysterious, impossible, unexplainable acts of God – the things that only God can do.
This is the corner that the desperate psalmist must turn. Humiliation must lead to dependence. But that dependence must lead away from self and to the Savior. His mind, focus, and attention is no longer trained on his own dire circumstances, but on the marvelous promises and deeds of God. To remain fixated on his desperate circumstances is to secure his place in despair’s pit. The way out lies in full dependence upon and completely engrossed in the person, character, and plan of Almighty God.
Despair Turned to Devotion (vv. 28-32)
Again the psalmist cries out in despair. The picture here is not a soul (nephesh) in the dust, but one weeping in grief. The word “weep” literally means to leak. The totality of his being is leaking as if he were dissolving in tears. Notice that the situation has not changed at all. The psalmist is still crying out in despair, but once again he cries out to the only one who is able to lift him up.
Request for Enablement (vv. 28-29) – “My soul weeps because of grief; Strengthen me according to Your word. Remove the false way from me,And graciously grant me Your law”
Just as the cry of despair remains, so does the request. The psalmist asks to be strengthened based on the same promises as he asked for life. His security and assurance is founded only on one thing: the Word of God.
Notice how he does not look for help in a bottle or in a box of pills or on the psychiatrist’s couch. He is broken to the point of weeping and death, yet he looks to the only source of genuine relief. If there is a way out of despair, it will only be found written down on the pages of Holy writ. Therefore, his request leads to a plea for divine enablement to obey God’s instruction.
The word way has been used with unusual frequency in this stanza. The psalmist has recounted his own ways (v. 26). He desires to understand the ways of God’s step-by-step instructions (v. 27). Here he asks to be removed from deceitful ways. And in vv. 30&32 he will use this word again. One the one hand, it seems that the psalmist is making good use of the Hebrew ways (דרך) in this ד stanza. But this is more than simple alliteration. In order to escape despair, the psalmist knows that he must both know the Word of God and apply the Word of God to his circumstances. His ways must become God’s ways.
There is no indication that his circumstances will change. But the psalmist is not looking for an escape from circumstances, but an escape from despair. This is only possible when the child of God consumes the Word of God and is therefore consumed by the God of the Word.
What happens next is so very important. All too often Christians cry out for help to God, and then just sit back and wait for God to act. The idea seems to be that God’s only reason for existence is to rearrange our circumstances in order to please us. We know that we need help. We know that God is the only One who can help us. But we miss the point and continue a self-centered focus that is pointed at circumstances rather than on pleasing God. The psalmist is broken to the point of despair and places himself in full dependence upon God. But that dependence turns into active devotion.
Responsibility Embraced (vv. 30-31) – “I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me.I cling to Your testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame!”
This is an active pursuit of obedience. The way of faithfulness is placed in opposition to the deceitful way. The request was for God to keep him far from deceit, but now he is actively pursuing what is faithful, steadfast, and reliable. The same Hebrew root for faithful (אמן) is where we get our word amen from. When we close our prayers with “amen,” what we’re actually saying is “let it be” or “truly.” The term is used to emphasize the faithfulness and reliability of God to answer our prayers. Jesus Himself is called the amen (the trusted and true One) in Revelation 3:14. Rather than sit around and mope, the psalmist actively chooses the reliable path of obedience and submits to God’s decisions.
The word ordinances once again reflects the earlier term judgments; God’s verdicts, decisions, and decrees. Rather than “I have placed” the Hebrew might better be translated “I accept.” The idea is that the psalmist is actively choosing obedience and in the same breath he is submitting to God by accepting His decisions.
The psalmist here uses the exact same verb (דבק – cleave/cling) from the beginning of this stanza in v. 25. Rather than a lament describing his clinging to death, he now declares his desire to cling to the testimonies of God. He is sticking like glue to the only lifeline that he has, the witness statements from Almighty God. With the Word of God tightly clutched to his chest his final plea emerges: O Yhwh, Do not put me to shame!
Even though he is in dire straits, even though he is laying on the bottom of the pit of despair, he has never once mentioned his specific circumstances, nor has he asked God to change them. His fear is not to be left in his circumstances. His fear is that he might be left in despair, clinging to the dust. This desperate plea is for God to act just like His Word promises. He’s asking God to keep His Word. This is the prayer of belief. God, You have promised it. Please make it true!
A short word is needed here to make certain that the reader understands what the psalmist is saying and what he certainly is not saying. There are certain promises that God has made in His word to His people. He has promised the security of their salvation (Rom. 8:28-30), that they will endure until the end (James 1:2-3, 12), and that He will resurrect them on the last day (John 11:23-26). Scripture makes no promise of prosperity, wealth, and worldly pleasures. If you are seeking out temporal blessings instead of the eternal Blesser (v. 2), then you have missed the entire point. In fact, that could very well be the reason that you now find yourself in your current circumstances.
Anticipating Enabled Endurance (v. 32) – “I shall run the way of Your commandments, For You will enlarge my heart”
The final verse perfectly captures the relationship between individual responsibility and divine enablement. Notice that he is not walking in the way of God’s imperatives – black and white commands – but he is running. The idea is that he is quick, eager, and purposefully committing himself to obeying them. He is actively taking responsibility to obey his God.
But the second line is important. That word for could just as easily be translated because. The reason that he is able to run the way of Your commandments is only because You will enlarge my heart. Remember that the heart is the seat of decision, volition, and desire. God has conducted heart surgery on the psalmist and has made room within him to obey. It is only because God has acted that the psalmist is able to obey, and so obey he shall.
Despair comes part and parcel with living in a cursed body and on a cursed planet with cursed people. We know what it’s like to lose a loved one, to work a dead-end job, or to be devoid of fellowship. The number of situations in which we might find despair cannot be counted. There are times when we just want to throw in the towel, punch out, tap out, and quit. That’s the perspective from which the psalmist is writing.
The answer to despair does not come from an internal strength to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, buck up, cowboy up, and get ‘er done. But neither is the way out a completely passive – let go and let God. The child of God has been given the Word of God for times such as these.
The way out of despair begins with dependence upon God (you can’t do this on your own) and ends with devotion to God (eagerly following Him as He leads you out). The Christian life is so utterly simple: know your God through His Word and commune with your God through prayer. Do you want to have a word from the Lord? Read your Bible. Do you want to hear God speak? Read it out loud. Do you want to commune with God? PRAY TO HIM!
Do we know our Bibles well enough to even know what God has promised to do? Do we bother to commune with God and pour out our hearts to Him? If you’re currently in the throes of despair, I suggest you begin there. For our good, but more importantly for His glory. Soli Deo Gloria!