Theme: The Trials of Alienation and Slander
In this week’s lessons, we look at various trials that befall Christians when we try to live a godly life, and also what our response ought to be as we come before God in prayer.
Scripture: Psalm 119:17-32
As we saw in yesterday’s lesson, in stanzas three and four of Psalm 119 the psalmist speaks of the trials that come to one who lives by the law of God. The first trial he mentions, alienation, contains two ideas. The first is that we pass through this world only a short while with little time to know and live by God’s Word. The second is the thought of being out of place in this world. Believers are alienated from the world by belonging to God, whom the world does not know or honor. This thought seems to belong to the larger context, for after speaking of his own desire to know God’s commands, the poet writes of the “arrogant, who are cursed and who stray from your commands” (v. 21) and the princes” who “sit together and slander me” (v. 23).
This is an important thing to know and come to terms with. If you are trying to follow God, the world is going to treat you as an alien, for that is what you will be. You cannot expect to be at home in it, and if you are, well, that is an indication that you really do not belong to Christ or at least are living far from him. Do you think that is too harsh? Jesus expressed it in even stronger terms: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:19, 20).
We may not be at home in a world that does not know God, but we have a home in God and can rejoice in him because he alone is finally satisfying. Saint Augustine expressed it well when he said: “Thou hast formed us for thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in thee.”1
2. Slander (vv. 22, 23). What I wrote about the poet’s alienation has already touched on this subject, since one form of it was the slander directed against him by the princes. Yet slander is a step beyond mere alienation. Believers feel like “strangers on earth” because they really are strangers. They do not fit in. That is an accurate description of their condition. But slander by definition deals with accusations that are untrue. It has to do with assigning false motives to the good we may be trying to do and even charging us with evil that we do not do. Not to fit in often seems bad enough. But to be falsely accused when we are actually trying to live for God and do good is worse.
Alexander Maclaren, that great expositor of the last century, wrote how this flows from the writer’s determination to live by God’s law:
The last three verses of the section appear to be linked together. They relate to the persecutions of the psalmist for his faithfulness to God’s law. In verse 22 he prays that reproach and shame, which wrapped him like a covering, may be lifted from him; and his plea in verse 22b declares that he lay under these because he was true to God’s statutes. In verse 23 we see the source of the reproach and shame, in the conclave of men in authority, whether foreign princes or Jewish rulers, who were busy slandering him, and plotting his ruin; while, with wonderful beauty, the contrasted picture in [verse 23]b shows the object of that busy talk, sitting silently absorbed in meditation on the higher things of God’s statutes.2
When we are falsely accused that is all we can do, of course. We can take our cause to God who will vindicate us in his own time. Meanwhile we must continue to study the Bible and try to live for God as best we can in this world.
1Saint Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974), p. 45.
2Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 3, Psalms 90-150 (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1894), p. 251.
What is the second reason the psalmist calls himself a stranger on earth?
Why must we be prepared to be treated as an alien by society?
For what reason does the psalmist have to deal with slander? What is the biblical interpretation of slander?
What idea links verses 22 and 23 together?
Reflection: How does the world treat you? Has your faithfulness to the Word of God been a source of persecution for you?
Key Point: If you are trying to follow God, the world is going to treat you as an alien, for that is what you will be.