Psalms for Troubled Times – Psalm 119:81-112

From Darkness to Light

As we come to the next section in our psalm – Caph – we come to the darkest of times for the psalmist. I find it encouraging that our gracious God does not bring the psalmist to this point until he has already passed through other experiences preparing him for the darkness. 

From there we move into the Lamed section where we will consider the faithfulness of God. The Mem section focuses upon the wisdom gained through meditation on God’s Word, which leads us into the light, and to perhaps the most well known verse of the whole psalm:

‘Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.’

v105

Kaph – The Enduring Man

Faints (v81) and ‘fails’ (v82) are translations of the same word in Hebrew: ‘kalah’. This means ‘at an end, finished, spent’, and a wonderful simile is used in the next verse that describes exactly what this means for the psalmist. He says: ‘I am become like a bottle in the smoke’ (v83).

A wine-skin no longer being used would be hung high up within the dwelling (Keil & Delitsch)where it would become blackened, dried and shrivelled by the smoke, a suitable analogy for the deep ‘distress, discomfort and sorrow’ (Barnes) the psalmist is facing. He is ‘spent’.

It reminds us of the similar expression, ‘my strength is dried up like a potsherd’ (Psa 22:15), that we apply rightfully to our Lord’s experience at Calvary. It is a comfort that when we are at our lowest, we can turn to One who has been there too, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He went into a deeper darkness than we will ever know, but now he is exalted and glorified.

And so, though the distress continues throughout this section, verse after verse, we find the psalmist looking with hope to the day of his deliverance, and learning what it is to ‘endure hardness’ (2 Tim 2:3) with ‘patience and faith’ (2 Thess 1:4).

James turns our minds to the wonderful example of Job: ‘Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord’, and concludes ‘we count them happy which endure’ (James 5:11).

However, for the psalmist, there is no joy yet. We get to the end of the section and the darkness continues. Yet, through the ministry of the Word of God, to which he has clung throughout his ordeal – ‘I forsook not thy precepts’ (v87) – the psalmist is coming to a most encouraging truth.

Lamed – The Disciplined Man

‘For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations’

v89,90

God’s Word is eternally immutable, and one of the great characteristics of our God is His faithfulness to His unchanging Word. 

What encouragement it is to know that while circumstances all around us change, yet we have a Sovereign God in ultimate control. He has not only ‘established the earth’, which ‘abideth’ (v90), but He upholds ‘all things by the Word of His power’ (Hebs 1:3). 

The psalmist calls the created world ‘thy servants’, ‘which continue this day according to thy ordinances’ (v91). I can imagine him taking great comfort in the fact that no matter how dark the night, the sun always rises in the morning!

Jeremiah, in a similar situation of ‘affliction and misery’ could write those well-loved words:

‘It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.’

Lamentations 3:22,23

Having been strengthened with these truths, the psalmist continues the section making two statements of purpose to which he commits himself. 

  1. I will never forget thy precepts’ (v93)
  2. ‘I will consider thy testimonies’ (v95)

These will require discipline in his life, an order similar to the created order he sees around him, but it’s not easy. There is much that will distract us from the reading of, and meditating upon, God’s Word, especially in our modern technological world. 

I write these articles on my phone, and even this morning before I began, I clicked on a neighbouring app to read the news. I then had to consciously tell myself, “I don’t have time for this. Get back to what you’re supposed to be doing.” This conscious ordering of our lives is so important if we are to realise the ‘purpose’ for which the Lord ‘hath called us’ (2 Tim 1:9)

Consider how even the Apostle Paul could say: ‘I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.’ (1 Cor 9:26,27)

Mem – The Wise Man

‘O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.’

v97

In this section, we see the fruit of the discipline that the blessed man has shown, meditating upon the ‘law’ of God (remember this has the idea of direction given) ‘all the day (v97). Primarily, this fruit is wisdom.

On three occasions, as the psalmist looks around him in society, he sees how the Word of God has given him an advantage. He is now:

  • Wise in Activity – ‘Thou … hast made me wiser than mine enemies’ (v98)
  • Wise in Knowledge – ‘I have more understanding than all my teachers’ (v99)
  • Wise in Experience – ‘I understand more than the ancients’ (v100)

This truly is a blessing, and as the psalmist rejoices in the wonder of this, he relishes in God’s Word: ‘How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!’ (v103).

Nun – The Joyful Man

Finally, he understands! Though the circumstances have been very dark and distressing, he has not been left completely in the dark, and he exclaims:

‘Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path’

v105

Many have known the truth of this, and we rightly teach this verse to our children, for in a confusing, corrupt and challenging world, we need something that will:

  • Guide us (v105-108)
  • Guard us (v109,110)
  • Gladden us (v111,112)

[These headings are not mine, but from a brother, now with the Lord, Don Robinson.]

It’s lovely to conclude this manward aspect of the psalm on such a delightful note. Despite the hardships of life, the believer is able to rejoice: 

  1. In the Word
    • ‘Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart.’ (v111)
  2. In the Lord
    • Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.’ (Phil 4:4)

We love Paul’s letter to the Philippians for its joy, especially because it was written from a dark prison cell. In the verse quoted above we have the last two of ten occurrences of the word ‘rejoice’. It’s a worthwhile study in itself to look at the various things that Paul rejoices over, but here, he gives us his concluding thought: ‘alway’ – at all times, in all circumstances. 

Let us take this exhortation to heart and be a joyful people today!

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