“My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word” (Psalm 119:81).
What do you do when your soul is at the point of exhaustion? Having held out for some time, your strength is now gone, and you cry out in desperation, “How long, O Lord? When will you comfort me?” Perhaps you are persecuted, or maybe it is your finances, health, family, or personal sin that has drained your energy and led you say, “I’m done! I can’t go on anymore!” What do you do?
In this stanza, the psalmist has been persecuted to the point of exhaustion–both exhausted in waiting for deliverance and almost exhausted in physical life itself. This theme word exhausted occurs three times, and literally means “to finish,” that is, to bring a process to completion, either positively (through filling to the full) or negatively (through emptying to exhaustion). In this stanza, the negative sense dominates:
“My soul fainteth for thy salvation” (v. 81a).
“Mine eyes fail for thy word” (v. 82a).
“They had almost consumed me upon the earth” (v. 87a).
Added to this word-theme, the psalmist drives home his point with two other literary effects. First, for the first time in Psalm 119, the psalmist employs direct speech. It is as if he has been silent for so long–waiting, waiting, WAITING–until now, at the point of exhaustion, his power to plug the pressure gives way and he cries out, “When wilt thou comfort me?” and “How many are the days of thy servant? when wilt thou execute judgment on them that persecute me?” (vv. 82b, 84). Second, he pictures himself as a leather skin-bottle in thick smoke, apparently useless due to the loss of elasticity (v. 83). In our slang, he snapped. He’s done.
Can you relate? What should you do? Three things are suggested to us by this holy example.
First, see your point of exhaustion as a doorway of hope. Having left one room, you are about to enter another, and the door between the two is a word of hope, a saying from the Scriptures that speaks with certainty of a better future. Do you have such a saying? Do you have a word of hope?
For each one it will usually be a different saying, and often a different saying for different times of exhaustion. In His rich goodness, God has provided His people with a storehouse of promise, a Book of over a thousand pages. In addition, He has placed His very own Spirit within us as a soul-physician, who skillfully selects the perfect medicine for us from such a rich medicine cabinet. Will you pray today for the Holy Spirit to give you a word of hope from His holy word?
Second, concentrate on obedience. Due to the pressure of persecution, or the emptiness of exhaustion, the psalmist surely must have felt keenly the temptation to slack off, give in, or give up. Instead, he affirmed:
“…yet do I not forget thy statutes” (v. 83b).
“…but I forsook not thy precepts” (v. 87b).
In all waiting, we must concentrate on something. If we concentrate on the wait itself, we only aggravate the wait, and tempt ourselves to disobey. It may not be the main point of these interjections, but one lesson learned here is to concentrate on obedience. In the Hebrew text, the word “I” in “I forsook not” is stressed (v. 87b). It was deliberate. It was concentration. It was a grace given by God to watch not the boiling pot, but to turn back again to the will of God in His word. In this way, we resist the victim-mentality and embrace the victor-mentality. Instead of simply being passive–waiting, waiting, waiting–we actively engage in obedience.
Interestingly, this concentration on obedience seems to be one of the secrets of our brothers suffering persecution in communist countries. Commands such as loving an enemy or praying for a persecutor form the active resistance to the acid of persecution. In this way, the apostle’s injunctive is fulfilled: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
Third, resist the lies of the persecutors. At first, this advice seems more limited than the previous two, which apply to all situations of exhaustion. However, if the truth be told, much of our problems in finances, family, or even health are either aggravated or caused by lies coming from the evil one, who persecutes us constantly. Too often, we assume something false is true, and then wrongly assess our situation in the darkness of the devil’s deceit. Therefore, to learn how better to resist the devil by faith, consider the nature of persecution.
According to 1 Peter, the most basic form of persecution is not beating or imprisonment, but slander. If the devil, whose name fittingly means “accuser”, can first succeed in forming an atmosphere of falsehood, he can then justify other forms of persecution as just and wise. Remember, the devil masquerades as an angel of light. He likes to pose as the good guy, doing the right thing; therefore, he first creates an atmosphere of falsehood before he closes in for the kill.
In this stanza, after the psalmist asks, “When wilt thou execute judgment on them that persecute me?” he asserts:
“The proud have digged pits for me, which are not after thy law.
All thy commandments are faithful: they persecute me wrongfully; help thou me” (vv. 85-88).
Illegal pits, wrongful persecution–that is the stuff of the devil. Do not believe his ruse. The atmosphere of falsehood may be a family member who keeps hanging the guilt around your neck; it may be a coworker who keeps asserting that you are the troublemaker, as Ahab did to Elijah; or it may be the general culture that keeps presenting Christians as the intolerant bigots who need to embrace the relativism of this Age in order to be nice–whatever it is, beware Christian! Do not give in. Though purporting to be lawful, the pits are not lawful according to God’s laws. His commandments are faithful–all of them. Forget not His statutes, and forsake not His precepts, for someday a Pit will be dug for the wicked, who will then be ashes under your feet (Malachi 4:3).
If anyone understood the pressures of persecution due to an atmosphere of falsehood, it was Jesus Christ. Imagine the Savior saying these words prophetically:
“They had almost consumed me upon the earth; but I forsook not thy precepts.
Quicken me after thy lovingkindness; so shall I keep the testimony of thy mouth” (vv. 87-88).
The devil had almost finished Jesus off; but Jesus, instead of crying out, “I am finished,” cried out, “It is finished!” indicating that He had accomplished all that the Father had given Him to do (John 19:30). Then, having done the will of God, Jesus prophetically cried out, “Quicken me after thy lovingkindness,” which is to say, “Make me alive, Father, according to Your loyal love” (v. 88). This occurred three days later, when Jesus rose from the dead, never to die again. His point of exhaustion became the doorway of hope. In Him, the same thing can be true for you. Rest on the finished work of Jesus on the cross as your full and only payment for sin, and then hope in His loyal love to give you life again and again and again.
“This I recall to mind, therefore have I hope.
It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not [lit. do not finish off].
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).