O Save Me From The Pit!

A brief study of Psalm 119:81-88, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 6 Sep 2013


The 11th stanza of Psalm 119 is characterised by the Hebrew Caph (k), which is equivalent to the English “K” or “C.” Providentially, the theme of this stanza or song is “comfort and compassion.” It is a call to our heavenly Father to deliver us in times of distress especially when facing persecution. We may subtitle it “O Save Me from the Pit!

We have no record of our Lord using this song in His earthly sojourn, but we need not doubt that He was familiar with it, and perhaps even sung it with His disciples as the heat of persecution increased. Remember how towards the end of our Lord’s ministry, He “would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill Him” (Jn 7:11). On one occasion, the Lord wanted to go into Judea to get to Bethany because His good friend Lazarus had died, but His disciples said to Him: “Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?” (Jn 11:8).

Our Lord was suffering even before He got to the cross. The smoke of persecution and threat to His life and the lives of His disciples was sapping His energy. He no doubt felt the heat and the choking smoke. And everywhere He walked, there were, as it were, pits dug along the way to trap Him.

Would not this song have been used by our Lord and His disciples to encourage one another? Our Lord is the only one who could with perfect honesty sing, “I forsook not thy precepts” (v. 86). Notwithstanding, His disciples and all believers may sing in union with Him because His righteousness covers us and His Spirit indwells us. We can sing this song to remind ourselves of the suffering of our Saviour for us. We can also sing it to encourage ourselves when we are faced with similar situations as our Lord.

This song has two parts. The first part is an expression of longing for comfort (v. 81-84). The second part is a plea for the Lord’s help in trial (v. 85-88).

1. Longing for Comfort

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?

What is it to become like a bottle in the smoke (v. 83)? Well, in ancient days wine bottles were made of animal skins. When a bottle is not being used it is usually hung up together with other kitchen utensils. The result is that the bottles are often blackened, wrinkled and worn by the heat and smoke from the wood fire.

Does this not remind us of the countenance of one who is troubled by suffering on every side? Does not suffering often darkens the countenance and wrinkles the brow?

The prophet Isaiah says concerning our suffering Saviour: “His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men” (Isa 52:14). This is no wonder, for are we not told that “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3)?

Some of us would no doubt have experienced a degree of the grief that our Lord experienced. At such times, I am sure we can identify with the words which we are given to sing in our text.

Our soul longs for the Lord’s deliverance, verse 81—

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

The word “salvation” here must not be understood as salvation from sin, but deliverance from suffering. Sometimes, the days of our afflictions are so long that we feel weak and weary. Our soul faints.

The eyes of our soul, as it were, fail as we strain to find a word of comfort and assurance from our Lord, v. 82—

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

I think the metaphor here is that of a servant suffering, looking to the master for his word of comfort. But in some ways, it will be literally true for some of us who will try to find a word of comfort by reading the scriptures. But there are times when our hearts are so heavy we find no comfort.

And we begin to wonder whether the Lord will deliver us and vindicate us before we die, verse 84—

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

One of the ways in which the Lord comforts His children is by way of vindication or the execution of judgement on those who have wronged us or persecuted us. You see, whenever we are wronged, a sense of injustice arises in our heart. This is what tempts people to take revenge. But as believers we are taught to leave vengeance to the Lord. And the Lord will in due time take vengeance and vindicate us. But in the meantime, if wrongs are piled one on top of another, it can be a great burden upon our souls. We may be tempted to take things in our own hand. But no, the way of release should rather be to commit our burdens unto the Lord.

This psalm is given for this purpose. It is given for those who hope in the word of the Lord (v. 81) and those who forget not God’s statutes (v. 83) that they may find comfort in the Lord in the knowledge that God hears our cries and that though He may delay to deliver, He will not fail to deliver and to vindicate. Thus we must encourage one another to wait patiently upon God and His Word.

And not only are we given words to express our longing for comfort and deliverance. We are also given words to plead for help.

2.  Plea for Help

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

The proud who care not for the laws of God have dug pits to trap me like they would trap a wild animal. This was our Lord’s experience every where He went. Most of us have not experienced such persecution overtly, but do we not experience the temptation of the proud one, the devil?

He and his cohorts have dug pits everywhere for us. Everywhere we turn, we are in danger of falling into temptation and sin. The devil would make us doubt God’s promises as he sought to make our Saviour doubt in the wildness.

Thank God therefore for the work of the Holy Spirit in our heart for He enables us to remain strong in the midst of the assaults upon our soul.

But we must not remain passive. Though we may not take things in our own hands, we must cry out to the Father for help. Even our Saviour “in the days of his flesh… offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death” (Heb 5:7). And He “was heard,” we are told, “in that he feared.”

So we are given to sing in verse 86—

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.

Those who believe that the commandments of God are faithful, and who seek to walk in God’s ways can cry out to the Father for help. Those who hide iniquity in the heart, the Lord will not hear. But the Lord’s ears are open to the cry of His children.

How does the Lord help?

Well, He can help by keeping us away from temptation. This is the 6th petition that our Lord teaches us to pray: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

The Lord sometimes also helps us by taking us out of the situation. Joseph was taken out of sore temptation in Potiphar’s house by imprisonment. He was taken out of prison to be prime minister. The prophet Elijah was translated to heaven to spare him of further agony. King Josiah was delivered out of terrible times in the kingdom with a stray arrow. Many a young minister of the gospel have been so delivered.

The Lord may also deliver us by removing the source of our problem. The Lord removed Saul and Absalom for David. He destroyed the army of Sennacherib for Hezekiah. He took the throne from Manasseh. He delivered Peter and John from prison. Many of us have experienced the Lord’s deliverance in this way in direct answers to our prayers.

But I would put it to you that most times, the Lord helps by His Spirit working in our heart to strengthen us. I think the reason is because every trial has a purpose and until the trial has accomplished its purpose the Lord would keep us in it.

However, when we cry for help, He will help. He helps by working in our heart. This is reflected in the last petition of this song, verse 88—

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

To quicken is to cause to live or to revive. When faced with persecution or any kind of trial, our soul is bowed down. The burden in our heart weighs us down. If it drags on, we become discouraged. We lose our zeal. We drag our feet. We find little enjoyment in our walk. We lose our testimony as the Lord’s witnesses.

We need to learn to cry out to the Lord to quicken us. As God’s covenant people, we can appeal to God’s covenant loving-kindness to revive us. We need a revival so that we might keep the testimony of God’s mouth. I believe this is a reference to the Ten Commandments which God spoke in the hearing of His covenant people. But whatever we may think that refers to, one thing is certain: unless we are quickened, we lose our testimony and our joy in the Lord.

Conclusion

O save me from the pit! This song is given for us to cry this cry. We do not want to fall into the pit. It is painful for us and for our loved ones if we do fall into it. Moreover, when it happens, we in our weakness often lose our joy and bring shame to our Father whom we love.

The Lord will help if we cry out to Him. He may not always help us in the way that we desire. But we can have the confidence that He will always revive us if we come to Him in contrition and a desire for the honour of His name. He will revive us for the power of the resurrection is available to us that we may live as witnesses of our Saviour in whose name we must walk and sing and pray. Amen.