Help of the Helpless

Wednesday: Help of the Helpless

Psalm 116:1-19 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
Reflections on the Lord’s Deliverance

As we noted in yesterday’s study, verses 10 and 11 are hard to understand, and the result has been somewhat different translations in the versions. Roy Clements spells out four possible translations before settling finally on the NIV rendering. We looked at the first two possible translations yesterday, and continue with the second two in today’s study.

3. “I believed because I said…”This translation would mean that faith was something the writer came to simply because he had nowhere to turn but to God. He believed, but it was out of sheer desperation. J. J. Stewart Perowne seems to have this in mind when he explains, “He stays himself upon God (ʻI believe’), for he had looked to himself, and there had been nothing but weakness; he had looked to other men and found them all deceitful.”1

4. “I believed; therefore I said…” The final view is the one reflected in the New International Version translation, and it is probably the best in many ways. For one thing, it greatly changes the force of the remembered words “I am greatly afflicted” and “All men are liars.” Instead of being sullen cynical comments, they become keen insights into his own desperate condition and into the unreliability of mere human beings. It was that he had come to believe in God that he could see this.

Clements sees it like this:
He is saying, “In my moment of crisis, I discovered I was a believer, a real believer, not just a nominal churchgoer and that faith I discovered enabled me to verbalize my distraught emotions, not just to myself, but to God. I told him exactly how I felt… In that situation, there was only one thing I could be with God, and that is honest, brutally honest. Maybe that’s why he listened, for listen he did. I tell you that I never realized it was possible to feel so much devotion to God until the day I realized he paid attention to me, deliberately turning his ear to my prayer. I love the Lord for he heard my voice.”2
The experience of his having been sick, of having prayed and of having God answer him so clearly and powerfully left such an impression on the psalmist that he spent some time reflecting on it, and these reflections are scattered throughout not only the first of the psalm, but the second part, too. They are not arranged in any logical order, but they jump out at us unmistakably.
1. “The LORD is gracious and righteous … full of compassion” (v. 5). The first thing that struck him is how gracious the Lord had been. At this point some writers work hard at explaining why the word “righteous” is in this verse: “gracious… righteous… full of compassion.” Some argue that it points to the cross, since God is able to be compassionate only because of the death of Jesus Christ for sin which satisfied the demands of his righteous justice. That is a true observation, but it is not what the writer is thinking of here. He is thinking of God’s uprightness in remembering his covenant, and therefore of being gracious even to such an insignificant person as himself.

Have you experienced anything of the grace and compassion of God? It is hard for me to imagine how you have not, if you are a Christian. Well, then, don’t you ever reflect on that fact and marvel at how good God is? Almost every one of the psalms in this last book of the Psalter is doing it. Shouldn’t you?

2. “The LORD protects the simplehearted” (v. 6). The second thing that occurs to the psalmist is that God takes care of simple people like himself. In other words, it is not only that God is gracious. It is that God is gracious to the little people, to the plain, to commoners, to the everyday person on the bus or in the shop—to people like himself. That is one of the great glories of our God. When Jesus called his disciples, he called fishermen and tax collectors. When the angels announced the birth of Jesus, they appeared to shepherds.
Isn’t the most wonderful thing about the gospel that God made it known to you, the simplehearted? If you think you are too important to fit into that category, I question whether you know anything about the gospel. You certainly know very little about the meaning of God’s grace.

3. “Be at rest once more, O my soul” (v. 7). The thing the psalmist concluded was that he could rest in God once more, and more securely and with greater trust than he had possessed before. What he is saying is that he was truly a believer before but that his trouble had thrown his soul into turmoil. As a believer he turned to God, God answered him in a marvelous way and now he is able to settle down and rest in him again. Shouldn’t your answers to prayer enable you to do the same? Every touch of God upon your life should make you stronger. Learn that you can continue to put all your trust in him.
1J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 2, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1989), p. 334. Original edition 1878, 1879.
2Roy Clements, Songs of Experience: Midnight and Dawn through the Eyes of the Psalmists (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1993), p. 155. This interpretation also comes closest to the use Paul makes of this verse in 2 Corinthians 4:13. He quotes it from the Septuagint, which reads, “I believed; therefore I have spoken,” meaning “testified.” The Hebrew words do not mean “testified,” but they can suggest “speaking” to God.

Study Questions
  1. Explain the remaining two ways these verses can be translated and why the fourth is the best choice.
  2. List three conclusions the psalmist draws from his experience.
  3. To whom does God show his grace?
  4. How can pain and turmoil allow you to trust God more?

Application: List times God has given you rest or delivered you. Give him praise for his compassion.
Key Point: Every touch of God upon your life should make you stronger. Learn that you can continue to put all your trust in him.

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