Vol. 17, No. 2, Mar. – Apr. 1988
EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
“Call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver thee, and thou shalt
glorify me.” Psalm 50:15
THE Psalms, like the rest of the Scriptures, do not paint a picture of life as idyllic. They are, in fact, more realistic than many Christians, for we are inclined to choose verses from Scripture which correspond with our own desires and ideas. You can choose many words which suit life as you would wish it to be, for example: “All that he does shall prosper”. That means progress and success in the ordinary human sense of the words, whereas in the light of eternity they have a very different meaning.
Can there be a day of trouble for one who is blessed by the Lord? Can there really be such a day for the one who belongs to the Lord and is blessed by Him? Yes indeed, for the Psalms often speak of that kind of day. How realistic the Bible is, and how important it is that we should not be governed by Christian wishful thinking. Some will affirm that days of trial or weeping are not for the true Christian, but both the Bible and experience say the very opposite.
There can be days of trouble, as the Psalms show us, though it may be hard for us to understand that they are necessary in the will of God. We read of sickness that a doctor could almost diagnose. “There is no soundness in my flesh” (38:3). Would God allow that? “An evil disease has gripped me” (41:8). “My bones are burned as a firebrand” (102:3); “My soul abhors all manner of meat” (107:18); “The cords of death compassed me” (116:3). Is it possible that God can permit that? Yes, according to biblical realism, He can. Since the Fall, the whole creation, including mankind, is subject to vanity, so much so that at times even the faithful are tempted to take offence with God. To a man who saw others being helped while there was no help for him Jesus sent the message, “Blessed is he who is not offended in me”.
There is no human situation which we cannot recognise in the Psalms. There are evil men in the world, and God does not always shelter His saints so that nothing can touch them. “How are my adversaries increased”, complains the psalmist (3:1). When he is most pressed, they seize every opportunity of falling upon him or gloating over him. And this happens to God’s elect!
The most difficult thing is when we cannot understand why the trouble should be. There are three psalms which most of us cannot enter into by experience, but can only read them and wonder. They are Psalms 44, 77 and 88. In each of these, the psalmist complains and can only call upon God. He says: “All this has come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, nether have we dealt faithlessly in thy covenant” (44:17). He asks, “Will the Lord cast off for ever?” (77:7). The strange thing about these psalms is that there is no answer; they close with the psalmist calling upon God with no immediate response. The day of trouble, looked at in the light of the short period of this present time, can be without explanation. It can only become meaningful when it is seen in the light of eternity. We cannot understand the depths of God’s wisdom, but must allow Him to be God — a God who hides Himself, a God who is not made in our image and cannot be comprehended with our way of thinking.
One thing is even worse, and that is to have a day of trouble which is the consequence of our own sin, This was the kind of trouble that David experienced when God’s wrath lay heavily upon him because he had murdered and committed adultery. He only emerged from it by repentance and confession.
Although we sometimes regard our day of trouble as a matter of chance, we do not find this [21/22] in the Psalms for they declare that God has caused it. “Thou has removed my friends far from me. Thou hast afflicted me …” (Psalm 88:8). “The dead bodies of thy servants have been given to the birds and beasts” (79:2). We might call these meaningless calamities, destruction of human life, collapse of kingdoms, but the psalmist describes these seemingly accidental happenings with the words. “Thou has caused it”.
It is abundantly clear that life is not governed by idyllic harmony. But it is also clear that a day is coming when the day of trouble will no longer exist. The Bible calls it “The Day of the Lord”. That will be the day when Christ visibly appears and actively intervenes. But the very description implies that the present days are not as He would wish, since other wills operate. The future is bright before us but meanwhile the day of trouble may be a most painful reality.
Call Upon Me
The Lord tells us what to do. He does not assure us that there will be no day of trouble for us, but He says that we are to call upon Him when and if that day occurs. A wonderful thing about the Psalms is that their cries for help exactly correspond to the needs involved. There is nothing artificial or merely formal about them. There are sighs, there are groans, there are even tears. We might at times be alarmed at the expressions used by men as they call upon God. Have they forgotten to whom they are speaking? “Are You asleep?”. “Please wake up!” “Stand up!” (as if He were lying in bed). “Make haste!” The truth is that in the day of trouble liturgy breaks down. All systems break down. Words are not enough.
There is a limit to mere piety, and that limit is passed when a person is in the depths. The day of trouble leaves no room for the beauty of phraseology. Thank God that He understands and heeds us, even in our desperation, though I must confess that sometimes I feel that the psalmists go too far when they ask God to crush their enemies and blot them out.
Well, if in their day of trouble they go very far in their cry, at least they go to God. And we see in the Psalms that God Himself has entered into the greatest troubles, for some of them can only speak of the crucified Saviour. Christ entered into troubles that may seem meaningless to us, as though He were offended with His Father. On the cross He used a psalm to cry out in anguish, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” That for Him was indeed a day of trouble, far beyond our understanding.
I Will Deliver You
God’s promise to deliver includes various things. Sometimes we understand His promise to mean that He will bring the troubles to an end, but this is not always the case for there are times when He delivers by giving grace enough to endure in a new way. I have always thought it very hard when a young wife loses her husband and am inclined to think that God’s deliverance would have been better expressed if this had never been allowed. But then, He has promised to uphold the widows (146:9), so the Lord of love will doubtless show His grace to them by special help. It is a dreadful thing to see a person whose inner spirit has broken down, but here we read that the Lord is especially near to those whose heart is broken (34:18) and I realise that He may well be much nearer in the day of trouble than in the day of prosperity.
The deliverance which we understand best is that which is described in Psalm 91. This we appreciate and rejoice over, for it says: “He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou take refuge … a thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee … There shall no evil befall thee …” (3-10). This is all very wonderful, for God is like that too. But that is not His only way of delivering.
The Psalms belong together in a great vital unity, and life is so varied that God’s ways cannot be condensed into a formula. Whenever Christians try to do this they shut God out, for there is no systematic formula for the fulfilment of God’s promises. That is why we so often read that universal question, “Why?” Why do You hide Yourself in the time of trouble? Let those who at present are having an easy time not make sufferers’ burdens even greater by asserting that they could be free from their trials if only they had faith! In Psalm 77 it is as though the psalmist cries out that he has taken the Lord at His word and cried, but without an answer: “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord … my soul refused [22/23] to be comforted” (verse 2), as if the Lord had broken His promise, but he concludes with the remembrance that the Lord’s way is in the sea and His footsteps not known (verse 19).
“How long” is another of the heartbroken exclamations of the Psalms, and it implies that God’s servant cannot wait much longer for Him to respond to the call of distress. God’s answer is, “Although I postpone the matter, yet I judge with righteousness” (75:2 Danish) Another psalm voices reassurance in this matter: “My times are in thy hand” (31:15), an affirmation which seems partly to mean that when I think that my times should be different, I may rest assured that in fact God has formed and determined events for me and that He has the matter in hand.
The truth is that deliverance has to be considered not just in the perspective of the present time but in the fuller perspective of eternity. When God’s ways are beyond our understanding, faith can give us the assurance that they are perfect and so satisfy our heart and spirit. “In thy light we shall see light” (36:9). In our own natural light we cannot always perceive God’s purposes, but we can be assured that afterwards God will receive us to glory (73:24). This brings us to the end of our verse, for in it we find that His promise of deliverance is followed by the prospect of His name being the more glorified because of what we have passed through. The New Testament amply confirms the assurance that the Lord will set a limit to all our troubles, enabling us to endure them and then leading us out of them when His purposes in allowing them have been fulfilled. Whatever our troubles may be, He is always within call. Let us never forget that. His promise is sure: “I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.”