The Book of Psalms

Friday: Affliction


Theme: Holding out Our Hands
This week’s lessons from Psalm 119 show that suffering can bring us closer to God and his Word. 
Scripture: Psalm 119:65-88
The last of these three stanzas brings us to the lowest point in the psalm, placed here just before the halfway mark. Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote, “This octave is the midnight of the psalm, and very dark and black it is.” But he also noted that even in the blackness, “stars…shine out, and the last verse gives promise of the dawn.”1 It may be significant in this respect that verse 84 is the first in the psalm to fail to mention the Word of God by one of the ten or so synonyms for it. Was it the case, when the psalmist was most down, that he lost sight of God’s Word temporarily? 
This stanza has a great deal to say about the psalmist’s enemies, as if at this point his thoughts were nearly taken up with them. He has spoken of them before and will again, though they assume a far less threatening role from stanza twelve onward to the end. Here he reports that these enemies have been persecuting him (v. 84), digging pitfalls for him (v. 85) and trying to wipe him from the earth (v. 87). The last phrase is literally “in the earth,” which seems pointless until we remember verse 85, which reports that his enemies were digging pits for him. That is how they wanted to get him “in the earth.” They wanted to kill him and see him buried. No wonder he has been so depressed in this stanza. 
Depressed, but not defeated! Down but not out! For at the very end of this discussion of affliction and this anxious reflection on his enemies, he nevertheless turns his attention once again to God’s Word (v. 88). The ancients had a saying that went: dum spiro spero (“while I breathe I hope”). But here the child of God does better. He exclaims: dum expiro spero (“even while I expire I hope”). He expected to be blessed. 
Some writers, among them Saint Jerome and the excellent Ambrose, pointed out that for the ancients there was often significance in the shape of the Hebrew letters. And so here. This is the kaph stanza. Kaph is a curved letter, similar to a half circle, and it was often thought of as a hand held out to receive some gift or blessing.2 That is a good image with which to end this study. For here the author is in need, and he knows that the only one who can answer his need is God. Hence, he holds out his hand toward him as a suppliant. 
That is all any of us can do. We can hold out empty hands. If we hold out hands filled with our own good works, there is no way God can fill them. But if we hold out empty hands, God will fill them, to the praise of the glory of his great grace. 
1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 3a, Psalms 88-119 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), p. 304. 
2See Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 3a, p. 308; and Herbert Lockyer, Sr., Psalms: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1993), p. 569. 
Study Questions: 

What is unique about verse 84? 
What were the psalmist’s enemies doing? How does the psalmist react? 
What evidence do we have that the psalmist is not going to be defeated as he goes through affliction?

Reflection: What affliction are you going through now that seems insurmountable and feels as if it will never get better? How can this situation strengthen your faith and cause you to wait on the Lord for his purposes in it?

Study Questions
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