Exposition of Psalm 119:81-88

by Charles Spurgeon

81. My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.

82. Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, When wilt thou
comfort me?

83. For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not
forget thy statutes.

84. How many are the days of thy servant? When wilt thou
execute judgment on them that persecute me?

85. The proud have digged pits for me, which are not after thy

86. All thy commandments are faithful: they persecute me
wrongfully; help thou me.

87. They had almost consumed me upon earth; but I forsook
not thy precepts.

88. Quicken me after thy lovingkindness; so shall I keep the
testimony of thy mouth.

This portion of the gigantic psalm sees the Psalmist in extremis. His
enemies have brought him to the lowest condition of anguish and
depression; yet he is faithful to the law, and trustful in his God. This octave
is the midnight of the psalm, and very dark and black it is. Stars, however,
shine out, and the last verse gives promise of the dawn. The strain will after
this become more cheerful; but meanwhile it should minister comfort to us
to see so eminent a servant of God so hardly used by the ungodly.
Evidently in our own persecutions, no strange thing has happened unto us.

81. “My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.”

“My soul fainteth for thy salvation.” He wished for no deliverance but
that which came from God: his one desire was for “thy salvation.” But for
that divine deliverance he was eager to the last degree — up to the full
measure of his strength, yea, and beyond it, till he fainted. So strong was
his desire that it produced prostration of spirit. He grew weary with
waiting, faint with watching, sick with urgent need. Thus the sincerity and
eagerness of his desires were proved. Nothing else could satisfy him but
deliverance wrought out by the hand of God; his inmost nature yearned,
and pined for salvation from the God of all grace, and he must have it or
utterly fail. “But I hope in thy word.” Therefore he felt that salvation
would come; for God cannot break his promise, nor disappoint the hope
which his own word has excited: yea, the fulfillment of his word is near at
hand when our hope is firm and our desire fervent. Hope alone can keep
the soul from fainting by using the smelling-bottle of the promise. Yet hope
does not quench desire for a speedy answer to prayer; it increases our
importunity, for it both stimulates ardor and sustains the heart under
delays. To faint for salvation, and to be kept from utterly failing of the
hope of it, is the frequent experience of the Christian man. We are “faint
yet pursuing.” Hope sustains when desire exhausts. While the grace of
desire throws us down, the grace of hope lifts us up again.

82. “Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, When wilt thou comfort me?”
His eyes gave out with eagerly gazing for the kind appearance of the Lord,
while his heart in weariness cried out for speedy comfort. To read the word
till the eyes can no longer see is but a small thing compared with watching
for the fulfillment of the promise till the inner eyes of expectancy begin to
grow dim with hope deferred. We may not set times to God, for this is to
limit the Holy One of Israel; yet we may urge our suit with importunity,
and make fervent inquiry as to why the promise tarries. David sought no
comfort except that which comes from God; his question is, “When wilt
thou comfort me?” If help does not come from heaven it will never come
at all: all the good man’s hopes look that way, he has not a glance to dart
in any other direction. This experience of waiting and fainting is well-known
by full-grown saints, and it teaches them many precious lessons;
which they would never learn by any other means. Among the choice
results is this one — that the body rises into sympathy with the soul, both
heart: and flesh cry out for the living God, and even the eyes find a tongue,
“saying, When wilt thou comfort me?” It must be an intense longing
which is not satisfied to express itself by the lips, but speaks with the eyes,
by those eyes failing through intense watching. Eyes can speak right
eloquently; they use both mutes and liquids, and can sometimes say more
than tongues. David says in another place, “The Lord hath heard the voice
of my weeping” (Ps. 6:8). Specially are our eyes eloquent when they
begin to fail with weariness and woe. A humble eye lifted up to heaven
in silent prayer may flash such flame as shall melt the bolts which bar the
entrance of vocal prayer, and so heaven shall be taken by storm with the
artillery of tears. Blessed are the eyes that are strained in looking after
God. The eyes of the Lord will see to it that such eyes do not actually fail.
How much better to watch for the Lord with aching eyes than to have
them sparkling at the glitter of vanity!

83. “For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy

“For I am become like a bottle in the smoke.” The skins used for
containing wine, when emptied, were hung up in the tent, and when the
place reeked with smoke the skins grew black and sooty, and in the heat
they became wrinkled and worn. The Psalmist’s face through sorrow had
become dark and dismal, furrowed and lined; indeed, his whole body had
so sympathized with his sorrowing mind as to have lost its natural
moisture, and to have become like a skin dried and tanned. His character
had been smoked with slander, and his mind parched with persecution; he
was half afraid that he would become useless and incapable through so
much mental suffering, and that men would look upon him as an old worn-out
skin bottle, which could hold nothing, and answer no purpose. What a
metaphor for a man to use who was certainly a poet, a divine, and a master
in Israel, if not a king, and a man after God’s own heart! It is little wonder
if we, commoner folks are made to think very little of ourselves, and are
filled with distress of mind. Some of us know the inner meaning of this
simile, for we, too, have felt dingy, mean, and worthless, only fit to be cast
away. Very black and hot has been the smoke which has enveloped us; it
seemed to come not alone from the Egyptian furnace, but from the
bottomless pit; and it had a clinging power which made the soot of it fasten
upon us and blacken us with miserable thoughts.

“Yet do I not forget thy statutes.” Here is the patience of the saints and
the victory of faith. Blackened the man of God might be by falsehood, but
the truth was in him, and he never gave it up. He was faithful to his King
when he seemed deserted and left to the vilest uses. The promises came to
his mind, and, what was still better evidence of his loyalty, the statutes
were there too: he stuck to his duties as well as to his comforts. The worst
circumstances cannot destroy the true believer’s hold upon his God. Grace
is a living power which survives that which would suffocate all other forms
of existence. Fire cannot consume it, and smoke cannot smother it. A man
may be reduced to skin and bone, and all his comfort may be dried out of
him, and yet he may hold fast his integrity and glorify his God. It is,
however, no marvel that in such a case the eyes which are tormented with
the smoke cry out for the Lord’s delivering hand, and the heart, heated and
faint, longs for the divine salvation.

84. “How many are the days of thy servant? when wilt thou execute
judgment on them that persecute me!”

“How many are the days of thy servant?” I cannot hope to live long in
such a condition; thou must come speedily to my rescue or I shall die. Shall
all my short life be consumed in such destroying sorrows? The brevity of
life :is a good argument against the length of an affliction. Lord, since I am
to live so short a time, be pleased to shorten my sorrow also.

Perhaps the Psalmist means that his days seemed too many since they were
spent in such distress. He half wished that they were ended, and therefore
he asked in trouble, “How many are the days of thy servant?” Long life
now seemed a calamity rather than a benediction. Like a hired servant, he
had a certain term to serve, and he would not complain of what he had to
bear; but still the time seemed long because his griefs were so heavy. No
one knows the appointed number of our days except the Lord, and
therefore to him the appeal is made that he would not prolong them beyond
his servant’s strength. It cannot be the Lord’s mind that his own servant
should always; be treated so unjustly; there must be an end to it; when
would it be?

“When wilt thou execute judgment on them that persecute me?” He had
placed his case in the Lord’s hands, and he prayed that sentence might be
given and put into execution. He desired nothing but justice, that his
character might be cleared and his persecutors silenced. He knew that God
would certainly avenge his own elect, but the day of rescue tarried, the
hours dragged heavily along, and the persecuted one cried day and night
for deliverance.

85. “The proud have digged pits for me, which are not after thy law.” As
men who hunt wild beasts are wont to make pitfalls and snares; so did
David’s foes endeavor to entrap him. They went laboriously and cunningly
to work to ruin him, “they digged pits”; not one, but many. If one would
not take him, perhaps another would, and so they digged again and again.
One would think that such haughty people would not have soiled their
fingers with digging; but they swallowed their pride in hopes of swallowing
their victim. Whereas they ought to have been ashamed of such meanness,
they were conscious of no shame, but, on the contrary, were proud of their
cleverness; proud of setting a trap for a godly man. “Which are not after
thy law.” Neither the men nor their pits were according to the divine law:
they were cruel and crafty deceivers, and their pits were contrary to the
Levitical law, and contrary to the command which bids us love our
neighbor. If men would keep to the statutes of the Lord, they would lift the
fallen out of the pit, or fill up the pit so that none might stumble into it; but
they would never spend a moment in working injury to others. When,
however, they become proud:, they are sure to despise others; and for this
reason they seek to circumvent them, that they may afterwards hold them
up to ridicule.

It was well for David that his enemies were God’s enemies, and that their
attacks upon him had no sanction from the Lord. It was also much to his
gain that he was not ignorant of their devices, for he was thus put upon his
guard, and led to watch his ways lest he should fall into their pits. While he
kept to the law of the Lord he was safe, though even then it was an
uncomfortable thing to have his path made dangerous by the craft of
wanton malice.

86. “All thy commandments are faithful: they persecute me wrongfully;
help thou me.”

“All thy commandments are faithful.” He had no fault to find with God’s
law, even though he had fallen into sad trouble through obedience to it.
Whatever the command might cost him, it was worth it; he felt that God’s
way might be rough, but it was right; it might make him enemies, but still it
was his best friend. He believed that in the end God’s command would turn
out to his own profit, and that he should be no loser by obeying it.

“They persecute me wrongfully.” The fault lay with his persecutors, and
neither with his God nor with himself. He had done no injury to anyone,
nor acted otherwise than according to truth and justice; therefore he
confidently appeals to his God, and cries, “Help thou me.” This is a
golden prayer, as precious as it is short. The words are few, but the
meaning is full. Help was needed that the persecuted one might avoid the
snare, might bear up under reproach, and might act so prudently as to
baffle his foes. God’s help is our hope. Whoever may hurt us, it matters not
so long as the Lord helps us; for if indeed the Lord help us, none can really
hurt us. Many a time have these words been groaned out by troubled
saints, for they are such as suit a thousand conditions of need, pain,
distress, weakness, and sin. “Help, Lord,” will be a fitting prayer for
youth and age, for labor and suffering, for life and death... No other help is
sufficient, but God’s help is all-sufficient, and we cast ourselves upon it
without fear.

87. “They had almost consumed me upon earth; but I forsook not thy

“They had almost consumed me upon earth.” His foes had almost
destroyed him so as to make him altogether fail. If they could they would
have eaten him, or burned him alive; anything so that they could have made
a full end of the good man. Evidently he had fallen under their power to a
large extent, and they had so used that power that he was well-nigh
consumed. He was almost gone from off the earth; but almost is not
altogether, and so he escaped by the skin of his teeth. The lions are
chained: they can rage no further than our God permits. The Psalmist
perceives the limit of their power: they could at the utmost only consume
him “upon the earth:” they could touch his earthly life and earthly goods.
Upon earth they almost ate him up, but he had an eternal portion which
they could not even nibble at.

“But I forsook not thy precepts.” Neither fear, nor pain, nor loss, could
make David turn out of the plain way of God’s command. Nothing could
drive him from obeying the Lord. If we stick to the precepts we shall be
rescued by the promises. If ill-usage could have driven the oppressed saint
from the way of right, the purpose of the wicked would have been
answered, and we should have heard no more of David: but through divine
grace he was not overcome of evil. If we are resolved to die sooner than
forsake the Lord, we may depend upon it that we shall not die, but shall
live to see the overthrow of them that hate us.

88. “Quicken me after thy lovingkindness; so shall I keep the testimony of
thy mouth.”

“Quicken me after thy lovingkindness.” Most wise, most blessed prayer!
If we are revived in our own personal piety we shall be out of reach of our
assailants. Our best protection from tempters and persecutors is more life.
Lovingkindness itself cannot do us greater service than by making us to
have life more abundantly. When we are quickened we are able to bear
affliction, to baffle cunning, and to conquer sin. We look to the
lovingkindness of God as the source of spiritual revival, and we entreat the
Lord to quicken us, not according to our deserts, but after the boundless
energy of his grace. What a blessed word is this “lovingkindness”! Take it
to pieces, and admire its double force of love.

“So shall I keep the testimony of thy mouth.” If quickened by the Holy
Ghost we shall keep God’s testimony by a holy character. We shall also be
faithful to sound doctrine when the Spirit visits us and makes us faithful.
None keep the word of the Lord’s mouth unless the word of the Lord’s
mouth quickens them. We ought greatly to admire the spiritual prudence of
the Psalmist, who does not so much pray for freedom from trial as for
renewed life that he may be supported under it. When the inner life is
vigorous all is well. David prayed for a sound heart in the closing verse of
the last octave, and here he seeks a revived heart; this is going to the root
of the matter, by seeking that which is the most needful of all things. Lord,
let it be heart-work with us, and let our hearts be right with thee.

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