Momentary affliction – Eternal glory
In this psalm, the hardship and affliction of the wilderness journey rises to the surface once more, as it so often does. This is not due to a lack of faith on our part. No, it’s just the reality of pilgriming in the wilderness. A reality that we all face.
Indeed, as we see the latter verses of the psalm quoted in Hebrews 1:10-12 in relation to Christ’s eternal deity, it’s not inconceivable to see Christ in the early part of the psalm as the afflicted and isolated one: melancholy and doleful!
And to know that others, including our eternal Lord himself, have experienced the isolation of the moment, is a great comfort and reassurance to us … we are not alone!
But, there is even greater comfort when we consider how great our God is: eternal and enduring, merciful and glorious. It is when we get an eternal perspective that we have hope.
Ending or Enduring
‘My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass. But thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations. (v11,12) … I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations. Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure.’ (v24-26)
The afflicted one is feeling life ebbing away … too early … and asks not to be taken ‘in the midst of my days.’ We think of many godly men and women, including our blessed Lord, whose time in this world ended while in the prime of life.
Naturally, we think it a waste of a life. Think of how much more the Lord Jesus could have accomplished, but this is wrong thinking. Upon thinking of the ending of life, the psalmist reminds his heart that the LORD doesn’t end … twice he says, ‘Thou shalt endure’.
And so, when we say, “not my will but thine be done” (Luke 22:42), we realise that one taken early in our estimation, is taken at just the right time in God’s calendar, and that His work continues unabated … like clockwork, and unaffected by the ravages of time.
We also remind our hearts, that even though Christ’s life on earth was ended ‘in the midst’ of his days; being the eternal God, creator of the heavens and the earth, He endured. Death could not hold Him, and He rose from the dead, alive forevermore.
And that means that we, who are ‘in Christ’, will also endure. Whenever this life ends, it’s not the end, but a glorious prospect lies ahead: ‘an inheritance, incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you’ (1 Peter 1:4).
Bow down or Arise
‘I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping (v9) … Thou shalt arise (v13)’
In this comparison, we see the psalmist bowed low in penitence. This is likely not because of personal sin, but the psalmist is taking this position on behalf of his people, who are presently under the judgment of God … Zion in ruins. And as the psalmist bows down, he has hope the LORD ‘shalt arise’ and come to restore.
Are we not thankful that the Lord Jesus bowed Himself down on our behalf? Consider that He was made ‘sin on behalf of us, he who knew no sin’ (2 Cor 5:21), and ‘gave himself a ransom on behalf of us all’ (1 Tim 2:6).
Now, when we bow in repentance, as we ought to, for ourselves, or on behalf of our nation presently under the judgment of God, we can know that the same Lord who bowed Himself ‘for us’, will ‘arise’ and come to our rescue.
Madness or Mercy
‘Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me are sworn against me (v8) … have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come (v13).’
Here the affliction the psalmist feels is not simply from the merciful hand of God, but from the unmerciful hand of men: ‘they are mad against me … mine enemies reproach me’.
I am reminded in this context of David’s choice of punishment from the LORD, following his great sin of numbering the people. He could say: ‘let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man.’ (2 Sam 24:14). David knew the madness, and indiscriminate nature of man’s reproach, and would rather take his punishment from the LORD alone, for he knew the LORD is merciful.
And yet … when the Son of God would come to die for us, as well as bearing the wrath of holy God, He allowed Himself to also ‘be delivered into the hands of sinful men’ (Luke 24:7). Think of all they did to Him: the stripes, the spital, the mockery and thorns, and yet, in mercy from the cross, He could be heard to pray ‘Father, forgive them’ (Luke 23:34).
‘Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach’ (Hebs 13:13), ‘esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward’. (Hebs 11:26)
Be solitary or Build community
‘I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top (v6,7) … the LORD shall build up Zion (v16)’
Often the isolation of our affliction is the hardest to bear, and what must it have been for our Lord, having seen His friends, forsake Him and flee, to then feel the utter loneliness of the cross.
We hear His cry “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” and we marvel that the One who eternally is Light, Life and the object of the Father’s love, could enter darkness and death, and know the isolation of that place.
I thank God that because He went there, we don’t have to. Instead we can be a part of an eternal, heavenly community, for Christ could say “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18).
Groaning or Glory
‘My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread. By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin (v4,5) … he shall appear in his glory (v16).’
Yes, the way is hard! ‘We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened’ (2 Cor 5:4), and not just us, for ‘the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together’ (Roms 8:22). Indeed, even the Creator groaned, when at the tomb of Lazarus, the Lord saw His own people ‘weeping’ (John 11:33). How touching!
Yet, the way is hopeful! For even creation … waits the day of its ‘redemption’ (Roms 8:23) And we, as the Lord’s people, groan waiting to be ‘clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life’ (2 Cor 5:4). For we know, that the One who raised Lazarus, ‘shall appear in His glory’, when ‘the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them … to meet the Lord in the air’ (1 Thess 4:17).