Theme: A Plea for Mercy
In this week’s lessons we see that there is a connection between how we treat other people and what we want the Lord to do for us.
Scripture: Psalm 41:1-13
What were his enemies and false friends doing? The psalm specifies four things.
His enemies were hoping for his death (v.4). It is hard for us to imagine such ill will on the part of anyone toward David, because we have such a good impression of him from the account of his life given in the Old Testament. But David did have enemies. At the beginning of his reign he had enemies from the family and house of King Saul, his predecessor. Later, even his own son Absalom turned against him, and when Absalom did that there were many in the palace and army who followed him.
Why should David have had so many enemies if he was actually a good king and a moral person? The reason was jealousy as well as a desire for power on the part of those who were jealous. This is instructive for us, because jealousy is undoubtedly a major cause of strife within the church. Those who attack others usually cloak their intentions with pious language. They say they are merely contending for the truth. But actually they are usually just jealous of someone who has greater popularity or greater influence than they do, and they hope that by toppling the other leader they will be able to acquire his influence for themselves.
His supposed friends paid proper courtesy to him while saying quite contrary things to others (v. 6). When they visited the king his courtiers said the right things: “We were so sorry to hear that you were sick…. We have been praying for you and will continue to pray…. We hope you are going to be better real soon. Everything is being taken care of…. Is there anything we can do?” The words were sheer hypocrisy. These people were not hoping that David would get well at all, and once they had left him they said, “Didn’t he look awful?… I don’t think he’s going to make it, do you?… Well, not to worry. He hasn’t been handling things very well lately anyway, and it’s time for a change.” They said one thing to David and an entirely different thing once they left his presence.
Instead of sympathizing with David in his illness, some attributed the illness to God’s judgment on him for some moral failure (vv. 7, 8). The phrase translated “a vile disease” is literally “a thing of Belial,” which suggests a moral evil. It is a vague expression, of course, which is why the translators render it in different ways: “some shocking thing” (Perowne), “an evil disease” (KJV), “a deadly thing” (RSV), “a wicked thing” (NASB), “an evil spell” (NEB), “a vile disease” (NIV). But the vagueness is exactly to the point. In slandering David there was nothing specific to point to, even though David himself was conscious of sin. His detractors were saying only that God must be punishing him for some unknown failure.
Christians also tend to do this with other Christians, though not always with malicious intent. We need to remember that illness and other forms of suffering come to God’s people for various reasons. Some suffering is merely in the nature of what it means to be a human being. Job said, “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Some suffering is sent by God to develop Christian character. Paul wrote, “Suffering produces perseverance” (Rom. 5:3). Still other suffering is intended for the glory of God. This was Job’s situation. Job suffered greatly, but it was to prove to Satan that a person can love God for himself alone and not merely for what he can get out of him. Only a portion of suffering is for chastisement.
So if a Christian is suffering, it is far more likely that this is a good thing given to him or her by God for God’s glory rather than a punishment for some wrong done or sin committed.
Review the first three things David writes his enemies and false friends were doing.
What are some reasons why suffering comes to us?
Reflection: Did you ever experience some of the malice David describes in this psalm? How did you deal with it? What did you learn about the Lord as you were going through it?