This Psalm is a song or prayer of thanksgiving. David thanked God for delivering him from sickness, perhaps a near fatal illness. As he thanks God he considers contrasting images which reflect the steadfast love of God. He was lifted up as it were from the depths. While men failed to come to his aid and many merely stood by and gloated over his misfortune, God healed him, drew him up from the pit of death.
King David also reminds us that at times God seemed angry but He pulled him up as He extended His mercy. David relates that the anger of God over sin causes us to weep in repentance and sorrow as well as pain. Yet His mercy causes us to rejoice over His favor, mercy and hand of salvation. In sorrow there is mourning and tears but in joy there is singing and dancing.
In the Christian life we experience these contrasts. We experience pain, sickness and grief which are often quite difficult to bear. Quite often they tax our endurance to the point where we feel deliverance is impossible even for God. But David helps us to consider that the joys far outweigh the sorrows. Even if in this life we suffer harsh and cruel pain from injuries or degenerative diseases, in the light of eternity these last but a moment. If we looked at our pains and afflictions with the eyes of God, and if we called out to Him for strength and aid, we would be enabled to thank Him for His daily deliverance as well as the sure and certain hope we have of heaven. If we did we would dance and sing in thanksgiving for His eternal and unfailing love and mercy.
When I was a small boy, I was quite frightened by storms filled with thunder and lightning. My older siblings would try to alleviate my fear by telling me that it was the angels bowling. That did not help. Perhaps it would have been a lot better if they had read me this Psalm. Here we learn that the Lord is in control of all such storms as well as the awesome power of thunder, lightning and wind. Though many such storms can have catastrophic consequences as we have seen in many recent days, they should ultimately cause us to stand in worship-filled awe of His might and majesty. Man is immobilized and inconvenienced as the supreme might and power of God is displayed for all to see. Such events should also force us to admit our weakness and our total dependence on the Lord for everything.
The voice of the Lord speaking should also strike us with awe. The voice of the Lord, like the thunder and power of the mighty storm which lays bare the trees and the earth, lays bare the hearts of men. The voice of the Lord has the power to bring many to acknowledge their weakness and plead for God’s mercy. The voice of the Lord calls the righteous to His service. The voice of the Lord speaks through us weak and simple men and women who have answered that call. The voice of the Lord is the voice of judgment and doom on the ungodly who have rejected His offer of mercy and love. They do not stand in awe of Him now, but, sadly, they will, on the last day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.
When David was fleeing Saul, at times he was filled with doubt and anxiety. He had no refuge but the Lord. He could not put his trust in his own abilities or those of his warriors. As formidable as they were they were still human and subject to weakness and frailty. Because they were constantly on the run they were filled with stress and prone to depression and exhaustion. If they were to encounter an enemy in such a state they might not be able to stand against them. Hence David knew that although life had its variables and uncertainties, God was able to handle them all. And if God was with him He would enable him to endure and overcome all enemies and obstacles.
We often forget the Lord’s strength and power when we are faced with trials and problems, illness, and life’s worries and storms. Yet we can endure if we, like David, remember that the Lord is with us. Since that is true then He is certainly able to encourage and strengthen us so that we can stand and endure no matter what forces or problems are arrayed against us.
Yet we still worry and fret because we look at the problem and not at the Lord. As long as we put our trust in Him we will not be ashamed of ourselves either in our own spirits or in the face of our enemies and detractors. The Lord will uphold his loved ones in the face of the skeptics and critics of our faith so that they will be ashamed by their own folly and amazed and awed by the Lord’s constant and abiding strength and wisdom.
David may have written this Psalm when he brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. The Ark symbolized the throne of God, His dwelling place. David acknowledged that the Lord is not like idols or false gods. He is not confined to this one spot, for He is almighty God who has created the whole universe. The false gods are confined to one spot. Compared to Yahweh, they are utterly useless as they are completely impotent. Yahweh is mightier than even the seas, the ultimate symbol of chaos and evil. He is holy and without sin. No one can appear before Him who is false, filled with hypocritical piety, or with pride or selfishness or worships false idols. The Lord can see through all these lies. Those who seek Him in earnest and with a humble heart will find blessings. They will see His glory.
As we look across the world today, we might be tempted to see few if any reasons for optimism or hope or few reasons to give praise to the Lord. War rages in many parts of the globe. Terrorism is still on the rise. Changes in the environment seem to be wreaking havoc with our weather. Immorality is becoming socially acceptable as the concepts of sin and shame are vanishing from our culture. Injustice is still widespread especially the injustice done to the unborn through abortion, and the injustice of the thousands of poor in the majority world who suffer from malnutrition and die of hunger while many in the West waste on money on entertainment, electronic gadgets and designer clothing.
Yet there is still reason to rejoice: the Lord is still on His throne. He still rules despite the way things seem. He will bring justice and will make all things right. He can use we who are believers His instrument to bring this justice about, not through violence or abuse, but through acts of loingkindess and the truth of his word.
This Psalm has provided comfort to millions, not just believers but to people in the secular world. This is because it is so peaceful and reassuring. It describes the Lord as a shepherd. When David wrote these words He referred to the Lord as Yahweh who was his shepherd. His use of this sacred name conveys the intimacy and trust that marked their relationship. He knew that he was but a sheep, as are all believers, totally dependent on Yahweh for everything. The sheep described here is calmly resting in the presence of the shepherd. Sheep will not rest, will not even lie down unless they are free from all disturbances. They will not be at peace if they are hungry or thirsty, or if they need their wool to be shorn from them, or if they are troubled by fleas or other parasites, or have skin irritations. They will not be at peace if they sense the presence of a predator.
The shepherd takes care of all these problems. He makes sure they have enough food and drink. He anoints their wounds with olive oil and wine. The rod and staff of great comfort to the sheep as they are not used to discipline the erring ones as some teachers would have us believe. Rather, the shepherd uses the rod and staff to defend his flock against predators such as wolves and mountain lions.
This Psalm tells us that as sheep in the fold of the Lord we can rest easy knowing He keeps us safe against all harm. The whole Psalm comforts us by telling us that in the presence of the Lord, as we follow Him, all of our needs are met and we can rest easy even in sickness, even when life is tough and we are faced with death. This is why this Psalm is read publicly at times of death. The realization is that believers do not die alone. The Lord will walk with us through the valley of death and lead us into the His kingdom. But He leads only those who truly are His. Only they benefit from His comfort.
Even though this Psalm was written by David, it does not correspond to any particular period of his life. Consequently, it is considered to be a prophetic Psalm written to describe the suffering of the Messiah. It contains a detailed description of crucifixion written in a time and culture that knew nothing of it. This is one of the Psalms Jesus meditated upon and quoted while He was on the cross. It conveys the pain He felt from not just the physical suffering, but also the more excruciating anguish he experienced from being total abandoned by His Father. Although we may experience physical pain as great or greater than Jesus felt, we cannot even conceive of the agony of His spiritual and emotional suffering or the total separation from His Father. He endured it so we don’t have to.
The second half of the Psalm, beginning with verse 19 is a song of triumph even in the midst of abandonment. Jesus knew that because He was abandoned, He had accomplished His task. He was still suffering and He would die but He knew that this was the Father’s plan. It was accomplished. Jesus knew that now deliverance and salvation had come upon those who lived in darkness and in the fear of death. The way was now opened into heaven for Jew and Gentile alike, for all those who are humble and totally broken to accept the gift that Jesus has given, full and final payment for all their sins.
In addition we can use this Psalm as a prayer in time of suffering. As we recite the lines and meditate on the experience and sorrow of the speaker and of Jesus, we can realize how much he knows and understands what we are going through. This can help us endure and even rejoice in the midst of our anguish.
These 2 Psalms appear to have been designed to be sung by the people of Israel on behalf of their king. The first is a prayer for the king in time of war, while the second is a hymn of thanksgiving to the Lord for victory. When these Psalms refer to the king they are speaking most likely of a godly righteous man like David. Yet we can well apply the words and prayers of these Psalms for our own political leaders as well as those in authority over us on our jobs and in our church.
These days it seems that our government officials receive nothing but criticism and disrespect from both liberals and conservatives. While we in the church must always demand godly leadership in church and government and petition for moral laws, we must realize that all those in our government, even those we have elected are there by the will of God. This is not to say that they always do what is right, for they are fallible and sinful people, just as we all are. But no one gets into office without the Lord’s say so.
Thus we should pray for those in office even if we do not like them or their policies. We should ask the Lord to help them to turn to Him for wisdom, grace and humility. Those nations who have godly leaders will be granted His favor. This is why the United States and Great Britain, among other nations, have been blessed for generations. But these and any other nations whose leaders turn their back on God will suffer. Now we see this happening on a worldwide scale as it seems that sin is running rampant and unchecked and evil and wicked people, prosper. This is because nations the world over have abandoned the God of the Bible and turned to myths manufactured by scientists, educators, cultural icons, media gurus and the very politicians who are supposed to be godly leaders. And yet we still must pray for them all.