A commentary on Psalm 119:81–88.
“My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word. My eyes long for your promise; I ask, ‘When will you comfort me?’ For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes. How long must your servant endure? When will you judge those who persecute me? The insolent have dug pitfalls for me; they do not live according to your law. All your commandments are sure; they persecute me with falsehood; help me! They have almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts. In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.”
Verse 81 begins the 11th stanza of Psalm 119, which serves to be not only its midpoint but also its midnight. The psalmist is brought into a place of deep anguish and depression, a state of nearly continual grief. Also obvious in this stanza, though, is his conviction to persist in reposing upon God’s Word, pining for his deliverance, longing for his salvation. He yet hopes in the promise of God’s Word, declaring that nothing else could satisfy, save for the salvation of the Lord. (Ps. 119:81) The Word, therefore, braces the psalmist to remain faithful, trustful, and hopeful, notwithstanding the desolate valley he was passing through.
The Word of God, indeed, is the source of joy and comfort for the believer in all times of despair and despondency. For, through the pages of Scripture, the believer is reminded of God’s redemption and is made, therefore, to recognize that his waiting on the Lord isn’t useless, it’s not in vain — for, indeed, the mercy and grace of the Father will surely come in due time.
Holding on in the Dark
This stanza is, essentially, the soul’s cry for solace and relief. The whole scope of these eight verses captures a prayer for speedy help, as that of a beggar holding out empty hands to entreat the mercy of an ever-gracious Benefactor and Friend. Which is to say, that if help doesn’t come from above, it won’t come at all. He was not looking to himself for aid or comfort, for soothing and support, for that is a futile endeavor. Turning towards yourself to find some inner strength to carry you above the clouds of affliction and adversity is an ineffectual undertaking. In doing so, you turn to a broken solution to fix the brokenness. No, like the psalmist, the Christian’s only hope is that of God and his promise of deliverance.
“Hold fast Christ in the dark; surely ye shall see the salvation of God.” (Rutherford, 811)
Indeed, in holding fast to Christ, even — especially — in the dark and troublesome times, we’re made to see the light of the gospel as it carries us along. In looking heavenward, to the promises of God’s gospel, the psalmist’s eyes had become strained, longing for assurance. (Ps. 119:82)
But the eyes that search and strive for redemption and rescue of God to come are blessed. The heart that turns to hope in the Word won’t be frustrated, for that hope has the ground and foundation of the very words of God. Furthermore, God cannot disappoint the hope which his Word has awoken. The psalmist determines, “I hope in your word” (Ps. 119:81), that is, “I hope beyond anything I understand, and beyond anything I can possibly do, and beyond anything I deserve, and beyond all carnal and spiritual consolations, for I desire and look for Thee.” (Thomas Le Blanc, quoted in Spurgeon, 206) The psalmist’s hope wasn’t unfounded or baseless but had its roots in the assurances of the Word and the promises of God. If he was yet hoping for relief without any assurance from God, he would certainly be a fool, duped to looking for that which never comes, an anchor without ground.
But surely, that’s not the case here, nor for anyone who looks and cries out to the Heavenly Father for rescue and relief. Was not Jesus’s work perfect and complete? Yes, indeed, it was, and is.
The blood-bought redemption of Christ is infinitely perfect and is, therefore, eternally reliable.
For, in it, the atonement of the Lord Jesus, all the promises and assurances of the Father are made sure. “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (2 Cor. 1:20) “Jesus,” writes Octavius Winslow, “is the medium through which the precious promises of the word come to us.” (148)
God’s commands, therefore, are “faithful” (Ps. 119:86), that is, they’re true, sure, equal, and infallible, not only because of who God is but because of what his Son has done. Obedience and devotion to the commands and words of God had brought the psalmist here, in the heart of tribulation, but ever sure was he of God’s goodness and faithfulness. (Ps. 119:86) Whatever the directive of the Lord, whatever the cost, the psalmist was sure that it was worth it.
“God’s way might be rough, but it was right; it might make him enemies, but still it was his best friend.” (Spurgeon, 203)
Whatever the loss, he is no loser who makes God’s Word his abiding guide. For, what can really threaten those who are confident of heaven?
We who have eternal assurance of eternity need have no fear of losing anything in this world. Hence, the import of the psalmist’s words, “They have almost made an end of me on earth.” (Ps. 119:87) The wicked can threaten God’s people with death and finality of life on earth but they can’t take away eternity from God’s children. Earthly deaths are nothing when heavenly lives are assured by the Word. It is thus, these promises of the Father in his Word, that give the psalmist his hope in this time of sore heartache and grief. His character had been smoked with slander and his mind parched with persecution. (Ps. 119:83, 85) Such distress that even time itself seemed long and slow, laborious because of the weight of his despair. (Ps. 119:84)
But it is through these distresses that God brings us to the end of our rope so that we turn to our Only Hope. Oftentimes, “God wastes away, debases, and empties his people, while he exercises them with tribulations and the disquiet of hoping and waiting,” to the end that he might grow the faith of his children. (Wolfgang Musculus, quoted in Spurgeon, 208)
Grace lives on even when all else gives way.
To be certain, God’s help is perfect, unrivaled, all-sufficient. And this is why we have the Word of God, to remind us of his promises, of his help, that we might cast ourselves upon it without fear. For, “we cannot conceive of any condition in which you, as a child of God, may be placed, any circumstance by which you may be surrounded, any sorrow by which you may be depressed, any perils that may confront, any darkness that may overshadow you, or any wants of which you may be the subject, in which you may not find some promise of his blessed Word that meets your case.” (Winslow, 143)
Samuel Rutherford, Joshua Redivivus: Three Hundred and Fifty-Two Religious Letters (Glasgow: Maurice Ogle, 1824).
Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 3 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988).
Octavius Winslow, The Precious Things of God (New York: Robert Carter & Bros., 1867).