This psalm appears to be another lamentation. Many of the psalms we’ve studied so far have been lamentations, when the psalmist calls out to the Lord for help because of the trouble he’s in. And so, in this psalm, the psalmist calls to the Lord in verse 2 to turn his ear to him. He’s asking the Lord to pay attention to him. And he calls on the Lord to come quickly to his rescue. And during the course of the psalm, he describes the trouble he’s in. However, mixed into the psalm, there are these expressions of faith where he makes clear that he trusts in the Lord. But then, there’s also thanksgiving as well, isn’t there? You see the thanksgiving in verse 21 where he declares:
Praise be to the Lord, for he showed his wonderful love to me.
This is a psalm for these days — isn’t it? — because we too are in trouble and distress because of the current coronavirus crisis. But we’re to trust in the Lord, aren’t we? And we trust that the day will come when we can give thanks to the Lord and praise him for his wonderful love in helping us.
And so, we’re going to study this psalm together; and as we do so, we’re praying that the Lord will speak to us through this psalm to encourage and comfort us. But rather than go through the psalm verse by verse, let’s look at what the psalmist says about the trouble he’s in; and then let’s look at what he says about trusting in the Lord; and then we’ll think about why he trusts in the Lord.
So, what does the psalmist say about the trouble he’s in? Well, first of all, in verse 4 he refers to a trap. Other English translations refer to a net. Presumably he’s not referring to a literal trap or net which someone has set for him. It’s not as if some hunter has dug a hole which he’s fallen into it. No, he’s using the image of a trap to convey the idea that his enemies have plotted against him. And he refers to enemies in verse 8. And then, in verse 9, he refers to his distress and how his eyes grow weak with sorrow. Our eyes often give away what we’re feeling inside. Someone looks at our eyes and they know that our heart and mind are troubled and that there’s something wrong. And the psalmist refers to his anguish in verse 10 and to his groaning. He says his strength fails or has left him because of his affliction; and his bones grow weak. So, he’s referring to some kind of inner or emotional anguish and to physical weakness. As one of the commentators puts it, his joy in life has gone and his strength has diminished. And then he mentions his enemies again in verse 11 and he says that because of them, because of his enemies, he is the utter contempt of his neighbours; and he’s a dread to his friends; and those who see him in the street flee from him. So, acquaintances despise him and his friends dread running into him. No one wants anything to do with him. And, according to verse 12, because his friends and acquintances have forgotten him and no one comes to see him any more, it as if he’s died. So, they’ve put him out of their minds as if he never existed. And he regards himself like a piece of broken pottery which has been discarded. And then he mentions in verse 13 the slander of many and those who conspire against him and who plot to take his life. So, while his friends and acquaintances have forgotten him, his enemies are plotting to kill him. And then, jump down to verse 21 where he mentions a besieged city. That conveys the idea that he was surrounded by enemies who are attacking him.
So, there’s the trouble he’s in. He’s suffering some kind of inner and emotional turmoil and anguish; and his strength has diminished within him; and he’s surrounded by enemies who are plotting to take his life; and even his friends have abandoned him.
But then, he makes clear that he trusts in the Lord. And so, look at verse 1 where he says he has taken refuge in the Lord. One of the commentators reminded me that in the land of Israel, there were cities of refuge to which you could flee for safety whenever you were suspected of murder. So, the family of the victim were looking to kill you, because they blamed you for what had happened. But, to stay safe until a trial could be held, you fled to the city of refuge for safety. And inside the city of refuge, no one could harm you. Well, the psalmist is in danger; and he has fled to the Lord for safety and refuge. And he calls on the Lord in verse 2 to come and rescue him and to be his rock of refuge and a strong fortress. So, he trusts that the Lord will shelter him the way we’re sheltered from the wind by standing behind a rock; and the way soldiers are safe behind the walls of a fortress. He’s saying that he knows the Lord will keep him safe. And he’s asking the Lord to free him from the trap his enemies have set for him. So, they’re plotting to take his life, but he’s relying on the Lord to save him. And in verse 5 he commits himself into the hands of the Lord. Well, when someone has a valuable work of art, they might commit it or entrust it to the bank or the museum to look after it and to keep it safe. And the psalmist is entrusting himself into the hands of the Lord to keep him safe. And he asks the Lord to redeem him, which means he wants the Lord to rescue him from the trouble he’s in. By saying all of these things about the Lord, he’s expressing his faith in the Lord and his confidence that the Lord will save him.
And look at verse 6: there are those who trust in idols which cannot save. How can they save? — because idols are nothing and they can do nothing. But the psalmist trusts in the Lord. And so, he calls on the Lord in verse 9 to be merciful to him and to give him the help he needs. Again, in verse 14, he says that he trusts in the Lord and he says to the Lord:
You are my God.
Well, the pagans would say:
Baal is my God
Dagon is my God.
And so, they would look to Baal or Dagon for help. But the psalmist said
The Lord is my God.
And because the Lord is his God, he looks to the Lord for help. And then he confesses in verse 15 that his times are in God’s hands. In other words, he believed that the Lord held him safely in his hands and the Lord would take care of him. And in verse 16 he asks the Lord to make his face shine on him and to prevent him from being covered in shame.
And so, once again, by saying these things about the Lord, he’s expressing his faith in the Lord and his confidence that the Lord will save him from the trouble he’s in. So, even though he’s in trouble and even though his heart is full of anguish and even though his strength has gone and even though enemies are plotting against him and even though his friends have forgotten him, he’s confident that the Lord will help him.
Reason for his faith
So, why does he trust in the Lord? Why is he so confident in the Lord? Well, ten times in this psalm he refers to God as the LORD. That’s LORD in capital letters; and it’s God’s special covenant name. So, it’s there in verse 1. And it’s there in verse 5. And it’s there in verse 6. And it’s there in verse 9. And it’s there in verse 14. And it’s there in verse 17. And it’s there in verse 21. And it appears twice in verse 23 and once more in verse 24. Ten times. God’s special covenant name speaks of God’s commitment to his people and to the fact that he has bound himself with a promise. So, think of a couple who are married. They come into the church and the stand before the congregation; and they say before all these witnesses:
I … promise and covenant to be unto you
a loving, faithful and dutiful husband [or a loving, faithful and dutiful wife,]
until God shall separate us by death.
When they’re married, the couple enter into a covenant with one another. And a covenant is a relationship based on a promise. And in a marriage covenant, the man promises to be a loving, faithful and dutiful husband to the woman for the rest of their lives; and the woman promises to be a loving, faithful and dutiful wife to the man. They bind themselves to one another with a promise. And no matter what happens in their life together — sickness or health, riches or poverty, good days or bad, they are committed to one another because of the promise they made. And the Lord has bound himself to his people with a promise, because God has promised his people that he will be their God and he will take care of them. And so, that’s why the psalmist trusts in the Lord, because he knows that the Lord has promised to be his God and to take care of him.
And look now at verse 1 where the psalmist refers to God’s righteousness. He says:
deliver me in your righteousness.
God’s righteousness in this context means that the Lord will do what is right according to the terms of the covenant. So, the right thing for God to do, when one of his people is in trouble, is to rescue him, because the Lord has promised to be his God and to take care of him.
He refers in verse 3 to God’s name. He says:
For the sake of your name, lead and guide me.
God’s name — his reputation as a God who keeps his promises — would be ruined if he turned his back on the psalmist, because God has promised to be his God and to take care of him.
Look at verse 7 now. Unfortunately the NIV obscures what David really wrote, because what David really wrote is this:
I will be glad and rejoice in your steadfast love.
God’s steadfast love is his covenant love. It’s his loyal love or it’s his everlasting love; it’s his never-ending love. And that’s the Lord’s love for his people. And so David trusts in the Lord’s covenant love, because the Lord has promised to be his God and to take care of him.
He asks the Lord in verse 9 to be merciful to him. God’s mercy is also wrapped up in his covenant commitment to his people. The psalmist trusts in the Lord to show him mercy because he has promised to be his God and to keep him safe.
And right at the end of the psalm, the psalmist says that the Lord preserves the faithful. He means the Lord will keep safe his covenant people, because his covenant people are trusting him to remain faithful to his promise to be their God and to take care of them.
So, the reason the psalmist trusted in the Lord, was because the Lord had bound himself to his people with a promise to be their God and to take care of them. And so, he was relying on the Lord to do what he had promised.
Years ago, years ago, when I was probably either still a student for the ministry or an assistant, I bought a book by a German reformed theologian called Casper Olevianus. He died in 1587. So that tells you this is an old book though it had been republished when I bought it. But the book is called ‘A Firm Foundation’ and it’s an explanation of the Heidelberg Catechism which is similar to our church’s Shorter Catechism. I have no idea why I bought it and it sat on my shelf for years without being read. But then, a few years ago I picked it up and read it and discovered it was gold.
Anyway, near the beginning of the book, Casper Olevianus asks:
Why is the redemption or reconciliation of humanity with God presented to us in the form of a covenant, indeed a covenant of grace?
So, why does the Bible say so much about covenants? In the Old Testament, there’s the covenant God announced to Adam and Eve in the Garden after they sinned against him; and there’s the covenant he made with Noah; and there’s the covenant he made with Abraham; and there’s the covenant he made with the Israelites in the days of Moses; and there’s the covenant he made with David; and there’s the new covenant he announced through Jeremiah; and then, the Lord Jesus spoke about the new covenant in his blood on the night when he instituted the Lord’s Supper. There are lots of covenants in the Bible, although I’ve explained before that they’re all related to the one covenant of grace by which God promises to save his people from condemnation for their sins and to give them eternal life. But why all this talk of covenants? Why is our salvation presented to us in the form of a covenant?
Well, Casper Olevianus answered his own question by explaining that God presents our salvation to us in the form of a covenant so that we might be certain and assured that a lasting, eternal peace and friendship between God and us has been made through the sacrifice of his Son. Let me say that again: God presents our salvation to us in the form of a covenant so that we might be certain and assured that a lasting, eternal peace and friendship between God and us has been made through the sacrifice of his Son.
And he went on to say that after a bitter quarrel, those who were quarrelling will only have peace of mind when they bind themselves to each other with a promise that the quarrel is over and they want peace from now on.
And God acts in the same way towards us. And so, do you remember what we read from the book of Ephesians last week? In Ephesians 2 Paul stated very clearly that we are all — by nature or by birth — objects of God’s wrath. We deserve to suffer God’s wrath because we’re sinners who sin against the Lord continually. We are, by nature, God’s enemies. He had a quarrel with us, because we have disobeyed his laws and we’ve broken his commandments and we have not worshipped him the way we should.
But because the Lord is a God of grace and mercy and goodness, he wanted to make peace with us. And so, he bound himself to us, his enemies, with a promise that he would send his Son into the world as one of us to suffer and to die to pay for our sins and to make peace between us. And he promised that he would bless us by forgiving our sins and by giving us the Holy Spirit and eternal life in his presence. He promised therefore that that he would be our God and that he will take care of us for ever. That’s what he promised to us; and all we would need to do to receive peace with God is to trust in his Son as the only Saviour.
And by his sacrifice of himself on the cross, the Lord Jesus has reconciled us to the Father completely, which is why he was able to cry from the cross:
It is finished.
It was finished, because he had done what was necessary, according to the terms of the covenant, so that sinners like us, enemies of God by nature, can have peace with God for ever.
And so, if you’re a believer, if you’re trusting in the Lord Jesus as the only Saviour of the world, then you have peace with God. That’s what God has promised in his covenant. You have peace with God. And so, in this world, when you’re in anguish and sorrow, when your strength has left you, when enemies are plotting against you, when friends have deserted you, when you feel besieged by troubles, in whatever troubles and trials you encounter in this life, you can look to the Lord for the help you need to cope with all of this life’s troubles and trials and to help you persevere each day and to keep going. You can trust in him because — for the sake of Christ who died for sinners — the Lord is your God and he has bound himself with a promise to be your God for ever and to take care of you for ever. And so, you can rest in the knowledge that the one who holds your times and your life in his hands is not your enemy, but he’s your God who loves you with an everlasting love.