My soul faints with longing for your salvation,(Ps. 119:81-88 NIV)
but I have put my hope in your word.
My eyes fail, looking for your promise;
I say, ‘When will you comfort me?’
Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke,
I do not forget your decrees.
How long must your servant wait?
When will you punish my persecutors?
The arrogant dig pits to trap me,
contrary to your law.
All your commands are trustworthy;
help me, for I am being persecuted without cause.
They almost wiped me from the earth,
but I have not forsaken your precepts.
In your unfailing love preserve my life,
that I may obey the statutes of your mouth.
The Psalmist shows how passionate he is in his longing for God’s salvation. This is not the longing of an unconverted person to get saved. God has saved us, is saving us and will save us. It is in the ‘is saving us’ sense that the Psalmist is longing for salvation. Paul describes the ongoing work of salvation in:
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.(2 Cor. 3:18 NIV)
We can learn that our hearts should be passionate, and our souls should be faint with longing that we be transformed into Christ’s image in ever increasing steps of glory. The Psalmist’s hope is not placed in his own desiring but in the word of God.
The Psalmist’s eyes fail him. He has read of God’s promises in God’s word and is waiting to see those promises being fulfilled. God is holding back, the Psalmist trusts that God will surely answer but longs to know when God will answer. We often ask questions like ‘how long O Lord?’ Why does God delay? We can never give a full answer or profess to know why in every occasion, but one reason is to show us that we don’t control God. God does His will in His time. Why can God do that? Because God is God! We have to learn to trust and wait. We don’t like waiting, and when we wait for a long time, we presume that the Lord did not listen to our prayers,, perhaps because of some fault in us, or because the answer is no. We always have fault and sin in us, so we can’t wait until we are perfect to ask. We confess our sins, and when we ask for anything we are calling upon God to be gracious.
Describing yourself as a wineskin in the smoke is a peculiar metaphor for us. A wineskin in the smoke will become black and covered in soot. The wine will become flavoured with the sooty smoke. It is not pleasant to look at and not pleasant to taste. Even though the Psalmist feels this way about himself he will not give up on reading God’s word and he will not forget what God has said. When we feel bad about ourselves, we often give up on reading God’s word. We feel that when we have a better attitude, then we can turn back to God’s word. But the healing of our souls comes through God’s word. However we feel, and especially when those feelings are strong, we should still pursue God’s word.
The Psalmist is afflicted leaving him feeling like a smoky wineskin, so the questions arise when is God going to deal with his persecutors? Notice that verse 84 is the first verse that has no reference to the word of God. The arrogant persecutors are planning harm to the Psalmist and completely stepping outside of God’s word by their behaviour.
The Psalmist still trusts in God’s word even though God is delaying any action, but he still seeks for God’s help. The persecutors have almost taken his life and wiped him from the face of the earth. That raises some questions, ‘how could God allow this?’, ‘when will God act?’ Yet the Psalmist still trusts in God.
As we have often found in the Psalms, when the Psalmist is reduced, near death, without strength, there is only one thing to bank on and that is God’s unfailing love (hesed). This will never fail. The Psalmist asks ‘according to Your unfailing love’. It is not according to his asking, or according to his piety, but according to covenant love, please preserve my life. Why does he want his life preserved? So that he can obey God’s word.
Lord our souls desire something different from the ‘everyday’. We long to see development and progress and sanctification in our lives. When we don’t see much development, help us to keep trusting in Your word. We long to see promises fulfilled, and prayers answered. We long to see those who are in a position of authority and are using that position to oppose Your kingdom being brought down. Lord in Your covenant love, preserve our souls and our lives for Christ our Saviour’s sake. Amen.