Facing the Breaking Point

Kaf (k) Stanza (81-88)

Exhausted. Spent. Done. Languishing. Brittle and about to shatter. Sometimes this is what life feels like. We want to love the Lord and walk in obedience with vibrant faith, but we feel like we are at the breaking point. The Psalmist was there in this stanza.

The observant reader notices that the moods change between stanzas, there is no emotional symmetry. There is a pretty good possibility that the Psalmist composed these stanzas over time, and not all at once. This would account for the varying moods. This stanza uses a Hebrew word which begins with the letter Kaf, three times. The word means “to bring to an end, to languish, to pine, to be done, spent.” The Psalmist was at his breaking point. Maybe you are at yours. May the Lord bless this exposition to the reviving of your soul.

My Soul and My Eyes are at their Breaking Point (81-82)

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?”

These first four lines express the believer’s weariness, not just in body, but in soul. Soul weary. He pictures his own soul as languishing for God’s saving intervention. This is not merely longing, as some translations have it, but it is the soul wearing thin while it waits for God. Then he says his eyes “fail,” that is, they grow weary, they are worn out, as they strain to see God’s promises come true. The Psalmist is waiting for God’s deliverance, His comfort, and yet as he waits, he is exhausted and near the breaking point. This is not patiently waiting, it is just waiting, knowing every minute God does not act, he gets closer to giving up.

Judge Soon before I Break (83-84)

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?

The image of the wineskin in the smoke is vivid. The wineskin, exposed to the smoke, has dried out, become brittle, cracked, and useless. The smoke of the trials is ruining this believer, sapping away his vitality, his usefulness, his very life. And yet, as we have seen so many times, he remains committed to the Word. This is not bravado, it is desperation. He knows he is coming to the end of his rope. He wants to know, “how long do I have to do this?” God please hurry, my grip is slipping! His persecutors are the smoke. He wants to know when God is going to do something before it is too late.

Calvin captures the sense of these lines, “As if he should have said, Alas, my good God, wilt thou help me after I am dead? For thou seest that I have already endured so much, as it is not possible to endure more: thou seest me even at the grave’s brink: It is now time, or else never to help. But yet I perceive no succor [help] come from thee.”[1]

Hunted and Pursued to the Breaking Point (85-86)

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!

His enemies laid traps for him. These are unprincipled men, unethical men, men who are not in accord with God’s Word. They wanted to make him miserable and do him in. They lie about the Psalmist. They seek to destroy him. Thank God that there is something true in the midst of lying enemies and that is God’s Word, God’s commandments. The contrast is powerful: Lying enemies vs. the faithful reliability of God’s Word.

The cry is “help me!” Please act before it is too late. “We are best able to resist our enemy upon our knees; and even such a short prayer as this, ‘Help thou me,’ will bring down the strength of Omnipotence on our side.”[2] Short prayers are desperate prayers, but they are also often powerful prayers.

Almost Broken, but Not Destroyed (87-88)

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 Hebrew word, “brought to an end, languish, done” is used here for the last time. “They almost destroyed me on earth.” They almost succeeded in breaking me, they almost brought me past my breaking point. They came close, but they were not victorious. The pressure to compromise, to capitulate, to give up, was all around, and yet the Psalmist could say, “But as for me, I did not forsake Your precepts.” This note of humble triumph may be in retrospect or it may be a statement of confidence for the future. Regardless, this has taken a tremendous toll on him. Things appeared so dim, there was so little rope left, so little strength, he knows he needs God’s reviving, refreshing grace.

He won the skirmish, he walks off this battlefield, bloodied, yet sword still in hand. He knows there will be another battle, so he prays for God’s covenant love to come and revive his soul so that he may keep walking in obedience to the testimony of God’s mouth. Charles Bridges says of this expression, “The title here given to the directory of our duty—’the testimony of God’s mouth’—adds strength to our obligations. Thus let every word we read or hear be regarded, as coming directly from the ‘mouth of God.’ What reverence, what implicit submission does it demand! May it ever find us in the posture of attention, humility, and faith, each one of us ready to say—’Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth!’”[3]

Application

Sometimes we don’t feel like we can go on. Things appear dim. God is nowhere in sight. The breaking point is near. But where else shall we go? Jesus alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68). So we cry. We tell God. We go to the Mighty Sufferer of Golgotha, who really was forsaken (Psa. 22:1). We fall on our knees in weakness. We cling to the Word. We refuse to let go. We realize that no matter how thin we might wear, underneath is the covenant love of God which will not let the bruised reed be broken.

[1] Calvin, 221-222.

[2] Charles Bridges, 141.

[3] Charles Bridges, 144.

Suffering Serves the Saints

Yodh (y) Stanza (73-80)

The Psalmist has taught us that affliction is part of God’s good plan for us (67, 71). We know that God is at work in the pain. But this stanza adds another dimension to understanding affliction: it is not only for our growth in faith and grace, but it is also for the benefit of other believers. This realization is transforming. What we go through, we go through not only for ourselves, but for others, serving as an example and encouragement to others. Suffering serves the saints.

This is what I was made for (73)

73 Your hands made me and fashioned me;

Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments

The Psalmist acknowledges that he is the work of God’s hands. God made him, He created him, and fashioned him, that is, He made him what he was. God is the potter, we are the clay. He not only makes the lump of clay, but He molds it and shapes it. He fashions our lives according to His plan, and that includes His providential control over our suffering.

“Give me understanding,” that is, give me the ability to see my purpose in my creation and in the crucibles of life. The Psalmist wanted a clear view of the truth of God’s work in his life and affliction. But it wasn’t just for better understanding, it was for better obedience; it was so that he would learn God’s commandments. What a prayer. Spurgeon commented, “We may reasonably hope that the great Potter will complete his work and give the finishing touch to it by imparting to it sacred knowledge and holy practice.[1]

Let Me Be a Visual Testimony (74-75)

74 May those who fear You see me and be glad,

Because I wait for Your word.

75 I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are righteous,

And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.

Imagine Daniel and his fellow Jews in Babylon. So many had compromised. Some were trying to be faithful, but it was difficult The Psalmist asks the Lord that “those who fear You would see me and be glad.” He wanted the covenant community of faithful believers to look to him and see in his life a visual testimony that brings them joy. He wanted them to see him confident in the Word, steadfast in affliction, enduring under pressure.

The Psalmist knows that whatever God does is right. He knows God cannot wrong him or mistreat him. All that the Lord has brought into his life, He has brought with faithfulness. Having girded his mind with these truths, he earnestly desires to be an example to others who fear the Lord. He refused to think only of himself in affliction, he thought of his brothers and sisters. Charles Bridges exhorts us, “Oh! be animated to know more of Christ yourself; let your hope in him be strengthened, that you may cause gladness in the hearts of those that see you;”[2]

Your Grace is Sufficient for Me (76-77)

76 O may Your lovingkindness comfort me,

According to Your word to Your servant.

77 May Your compassion come to me that I may live,

For Your law is my delight.

Throughout this Psalm, the Psalmist never views himself as a spiritual Superman. He knew that such an attitude and perspective towards suffering would need to be sustained by God Himself. “Let Your loyal covenant love comfort me, according to the promise to Your servant.” If his suffering was going to serve the saints, God would need to serve Him with His covenant love and covenant promise. In addition, he needed God’s compassion to live. As Daniel prayed in Daniel 9:9, “To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness.” Without God’s tender mercies there is no life; with God’s tender mercies there is constant renewal of life. “For Your law is my delight,” is the Psalmist’s declaration that fuels his desire for renewed life. His heart is not dead or dull, but alive with joy and dependence.

Take Care of the Insolent Liars (78)

78 May the arrogant be ashamed, for they subvert me with a lie;

But I shall meditate on Your precepts.

Although affliction may be lightened by the knowledge of God’s hand in it, and God’s fresh compassions and mercies, there are still real people who are bitter and arrogant and quick to assault God’s people with lies. The Psalmist prays that they may be ashamed, “That is, let them be brought to repentance or to ruin.”[3] Notice well believer, the Psalmist says, “But I shall meditate on Your precepts.” He refuses to be consumed with vindictive thoughts or vengeful feelings, rather, he focuses his mind on what God would have him do.

Let Me Be a Verbal Testimony (79)

79 May those who fear You turn to me,

Even those who know Your testimonies.

He returns to those whom he prayed for in v. 74, those who fear the Lord and know His Word. He keeps them ever close to his mind and affections. He desires to help them. He knows he needs them, but he also knows that they need him.

Help Me Live Above Reproach (80)

80 May my heart be blameless in Your statutes,

So that I will not be ashamed.

The final prayer brings into focus enduring affliction for the sake of God’s name and the good of His people. He prays for integrity of heart and through this he would not be ashamed, that is, he would not bring grief to his own conscience and reproach to his God and discouragement to his brothers.

Application

When I found out I had a brain tumor I started asking the Lord, “Father, let me suffer well for the sake of Your people.” I had an awareness that the way I went through this trial was bigger than just me, it could strengthen and encourage other believers as they faced trials. Having a big picture of suffering includes seeing God’s hand in it and seeing our brothers and sisters. Our faith, sustained by God and His Word, can help the faith of others. Our suffering serves the saints.

[1] C.H. Spurgeon, Psalms Volume II, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 212.

[2] Charles Bridges, Exposition of Psalm 119: As Illustrative of the Character and Exercises of Christian Experience, Seventeenth Edition (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1861), 121.

[3] Matthew Henry, A Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume 3, 702.

God is Good and Does Good

Teth (j) Stanza (65-72)

This stanza has ministered to me more than any other in Psalm 119. I have preached these verses to myself in many circumstances. Verse 68 kept me sane during some of the deepest trials of my life. The central theme is God’s goodness, especially His goodness to us in affliction. Five times the Hebrew word for good is used, starting five lines of the stanza.

God’s Goodness in the School of Affliction (65-67)

65 You have dealt well with Your servant,

O Lord, according to Your word.

66 Teach me good discernment and knowledge,

For I believe in Your commandments.

67 Before I was afflicted, I went astray,

But now I keep Your word.

Young’s Literal Translation captures the emphasis in the Hebrew text: “Good Thou Didst with Thy servant, O Jehovah.” The Psalmist is considering that God has treated him better than he deserved. He has treated him just as He promised. God does not necessarily treat us in the way we ask, nor even the way we expect, but He always treats us faithfully and in accord with His Word.

He then prays to learn good discernment. The Psalmist is always asking God to teach him, he, like us, has much to learn! Here he asks to be taught discernment and knowledge. He desires spiritual and moral understanding. Perhaps, as context would indicate, he was slow discerning God’s goodness to him. He wants a better grasp of God’s goodness, better  spiritual insight and understanding because he truly believes in God’s commandments.

The Psalmist then makes confession of the benefits of God’s discipline. There is a “before” and a “but now.”  “Before I was afflicted, I went astray.” For all his integrity, he still knows what it is to go astray, to wonder. He would have given a hearty “amen” to

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.

Prone to leave the God I love.

He sees God’s keeping grace in the affliction. Perhaps that prayer for discernment and knowledge was to have a quicker perception and better response earlier in the process of wandering. Nevertheless, he sees God’s loving discipline in the affliction, which has produced fruit, “But now I keep Your Word.”

God’s Goodness in His Person and Actions (68-70)

68 You are good and do good;

Teach me Your statutes.

69 The arrogant have forged a lie against me;

With all my heart I will observe Your precepts.

70 Their heart is covered with fat,

But I delight in Your law.

Verse 68 is such a simple and yet amazingly profound declaration about God. “You are good.” God is supreme goodness. Goodness is essential and intrinsic to God’s nature (Ex. 33:19). His goodness manifests itself in His kind disposition towards His creatures in general and His elect in particular. The next phrase, “and You do good” is the necessary consequence of God being good. He acts out of His nature. What He is determines what He does. His sovereign goodness guarantees goodness in His sovereignty. Seeing God’s goodness in affliction is important. But when we can’t see it, we need to at least acknowledge it by faith. “Father, I know You are good and know You do good. I can’t see any good in any of this right now, but I know, by faith, that You are doing good. Help me to rest by faith in what I cannot see.”

The Psalmist then asks, again, to be taught by God. He doesn’t want the lessons to go to waste. There then is an interesting shift in the section, the Psalmist then begins talking about the arrogant and their verbal assaults against him. The proud are fabricating a façade of falsehood. Their heart is thick, insensitive, and the truth arteries are clogged.

Perhaps this was part of the affliction. But in the midst of such trying circumstances, the Psalmist affirms he will observe God’s precepts with all his heart and he delights in the Law. Only the tenderhearted can delight in the Word. The Psalmist is thankful for the heart God has given.

Reflections on God’s Goodness in Affliction (71-72)

71 It is good for me that I was afflicted,

That I may learn Your statutes.

72 The law of Your mouth is better to me

Than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

God is good. God does good. It is good to be afflicted. Of course, the world knows nothing of this. And certainly, we don’t seek affliction. But when it comes, it comes with purpose according to the kind intention our Father’s will. In 2016 I had a massive brain tumor that required 11 ½ hours of surgery. I do not want to ever go through that again! But as I look back, I see God’s hand, His kindness, His lessons, His love. God’s school of affliction is good for us because we learn of Him and His ways with a depth that does not come any other way.

The Psalmist concludes the stanza with an oft repeated emphasis on the value of the Word. The main textbook in the school of affliction is God’s Word. This book, in this school, is more valuable than all the money in the world. Affliction exegetes and applies the Word for us in ways that can only be experienced.

Application

Andrew Bonar writes, “’He never wronged me or mine,’ was the saying of a Scottish saint, even when the bloody head of his martyred son was held up to his view.”[1] He has never wronged me. He always treats me better than I deserve. Even in affliction He is teaching me. He knows how to skillfully apply affliction, pain, trials, and tragedies.

Child of God, can you say that? If you believe in the Cross of Jesus, then you know that God has done you ultimate good through the suffering, affliction, and death of own perfect Son. All our affliction now is not punitive, but remedial. May God give us eyes to see and faith to believe that He is good, He does good, and affliction is for our good.

John Newton wrote these powerful words, which beautifully capture this stanza:

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

[1] Bonar, Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms (reprint, Tentmaker Publications, 2001. Originally published 1859), 364.