Theme: The Unchanging God
In this week’s lessons, we see how we are to approach God when we are in need, and what our response ought to be to his help.
Scripture: Psalm 116:1-19
In general, the first eleven (or nine) verses of the psalm tell what God did for the psalmist: God delivered him from the threshold of the grave. He speaks of this in a number of verses:
The cords of death entangled me,the anguish of the grave came upon me;I was overcome by trouble and sorrow (v. 3).
I was in great need (v. 6b).
For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death,my eyes from tears,my feet from stumbling (v. 8).
I believed; therefore, I said,“I am greatly afflicted” (v. 10).
This theme dominates part one, but it also appears as an echo in part two: “you have freed me from my chains” (v. 16c). What was this affliction? It could be nearly anything, but it is probably best to take the words at face value. The psalmist was sick to the point of death, and God delivered him.
There is an important link here between the past, the present and the future. God heard the psalmist’s prayer; therefore, he hears and will hear. God delivered him; therefore, he delivers and will deliver.
In his helpful exposition of the psalms, Alexander Maclaren rightly reminds us that this is possible only because God is God and is unchanging. Everything connected with mere human beings and even nature changes. Even the supposed “fixed” laws of nature are not permanent. One day even the sun will cease to rise, for the heavens and the earth will pass away. Only God is unchanging. But because he is, we can count on him to do in the present and future what he has in the past. Maclaren says, “His past is the guarantee and the revelation of his future, and every person that grasps him in faith has the right to pray with assurance.”1
The last two verses of this section, verses 10 and 11, are hard to understand, and the result has been somewhat different translations in the versions. The problem is that the connecting Hebrew particle translated “therefore” in the New International Version (“I believed; therefore, I said …”) can mean different things. Roy Clements spells out four possible translations before settling finally on the NIV rendering.
1. “I believed even when I said…” This means that the writer had said some wrong things when he was sick but that he had been trusting God even then. This is possible and even a true picture of what we all sometimes do. We believe even when we speak or act badly. The problem with this, as Clements writes, is that it “seems to strike a rather smug note which does not fit easily with [the] mood of total helplessness the psalmist is confessing. It is as if he was rather congratulating himself on how tenacious his faith had really been in spite of all his pessimistic comments.”2 We can probably lay this translation aside.
2. “I believed even though I said…” If this is the meaning, the sense of these verses would be one of clarification. It would mean that he had said something in his sickness that might be misconstrued as if he had abandoned his faith and that he is trying to set the record straight. H. C. Leupold takes this approach and suggests the paraphrase: “I did not cast away my faith at the time when I said what could be misconstrued; true, I was greatly afflicted and spoke under the stress of strong emotion; but what I said at the time was: ‘All men are utterly unreliable.”” He goes on: “That was, however, not so much a pessimistic reflection upon how evil other men are but rather a statement to the effect that, in the last analysis, help must be sought from God alone.”3 Again, this is possible. But it is a bit too elaborate an explanation to be convincing.
1Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, vol. 3, The Psalms, Isaiah 1-48 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1959), p. 267.
2Roy Clements, Songs of Experience: Midnight and Dawn through the Eyes of the Psalmists (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1993), p. 154.
3H. C. Leupold, Expositions of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 806.
From what did God deliver the psalmist? How?
What is the link between the past, present, and future?
Explain the first two ways verses 10 and 11 can be translated.
Reflection: How does the fact that God is unchanging affect your life?
Application: Think of times in your life when you doubted God. What did he bring to your mind that led to your repentance?
Key Point: Only God is unchanging. But because he is, we can count on him to do in the present and future what he has in the past.