The Book of Psalms

Rock of Refuge, Part 3

Theme

Theme: A Lament
In this week’s lessons, we learn from this psalm how to deal with difficulties that come into our lives, knowing that God is our mighty refuge in whom alone we can trust.
Scripture: Psalm 31:1-24
The emotional heart of the psalm is the lament found in verses 9-13, in which David tells the Lord of his present distress and danger. In studying an earlier psalm I pointed out that language expressing acute physical affliction sometimes refers to actual sickness and sometimes not. In Psalm 30 it did. There David was so sick he was on the point of dying. In Psalm 31 the problem does not seem to be illness but rather the danger created by his enemies. For that reason the language used to describe bodily affliction should be seen primarily as metaphorical or at least as being poetically exaggerated.
The best way to read the stanza is backwards. David starts with his personal distress and works outward to its cause, and we do better if we begin with the cause and work inward to the effect it had on David. The chief problem (v. 13) is that his enemies had surrounded him on all sides and were conspiring together to take his life. This was literally true during much of David’s reign. The kingdom was surrounded by hostile neighbors, just as the present nation of Israel is surrounded by hostile Arab neighbors. But David may also be thinking of plots within his kingdom by Jewish enemies or of the days he had to flee from King Saul.
Because of the enormity of this danger and of his own apparent weakness, David was scorned by his neighbors and was even deserted by his friends (vv. 11, 12). Many people have experienced this. As long as we are successful or influential or rich, everyone wants to know us and be considered our friend. But as soon as we lose these advantages, people desert us. This is the way of the world. We should not be surprised at it. We should only be thankful that God is quite different.
Finally, because of his precarious position and of being deserted by his friends, David was affected physically. His strength seemed to fail, his bones and eyes growing weak and his body was filled with grief. These words may be poetic exaggeration, as I said, but they describe real affliction. They describe the weakness, sorrow and grief of many.
Earlier in this study I said that the body of the psalm moves from the emotional crest of praying to God down into a trough of sorrow and then back upward to a crest of praise again. In the last section we were in the trough. In this section (vv. 14-18) we are starting up the other side.
To many people the most striking sentence in these verses is the first in verse 15, which says, “My times are in your hands.” What times are these? Well, all times. The times of our youth are in God’s hands, times when others make decisions for us. Some of those decisions are good decisions, some are bad. But God holds both the good and bad in his hands and works all things for the good of those who love him.
The times of our maturity are in God’s hands, that is, days in which we are (or should be) about our Father’s business. In such days we probably have successes, but we also have defeats. Even in spiritual work everything does not always go well. Does that mean that God has abandoned us? Not at all. The times of defeat as well as the times of victory are controlled by God.
Finally, the times of our old age are in God’s hand, days in which the strength of youth have faded away and the opportunities for starting new works are past. God cares for us also in old age, and he is able to bless those days as much as any others:
Even down to old age thy saints shall proveThine own inestimable, unchangeable love.And when hoary heirs shall their temples adornLike lambs they shall to thy bosom be borne.
What this means in brief is that God is present in all the circumstances of your life. Nothing ever comes into your life to surprise him. Indeed, nothing can come into your life that has not first of all passed through the filter of his “good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2). “In all things God works for the good of those who love him,” Paul says (Rom. 8:28). Therefore, like Paul, we can also say, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11).
Study Questions:

What seems to be the source of David’s affliction?
What does Dr. Boice mean when he says that it is better to read the lament stanza (vv. 9-13) backwards?

Reflection: What does it mean to say, “My times are in your hands” (v. 15)? How is the Lord calling you to live in that way?

Study Questions
Application
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