Have you ever felt that God has abandoned you and you have no real discernible reason why? Have you examined your heart for sin and found you are doing your best to serve God, and yet despite your best efforts it seems God is nowhere to be found? If this is how you feel, you have just hit upon the gist of this psalm.
We do not know the author of the psalm although we do know he was a descendant of Korah. This means it could have been written anytime over a period of 1400 years. Apparently, Israel had just suffered a stunning military defeat and the psalmist did not understand why God had not come to their aid. There were times in the past when it was very clear why Israel had been defeated. Those times were connected to obvious sins, usually the sin of idolatry when Israel fell into the worship of false gods. This was not one of those times which makes the defeat all the more puzzling.
The psalm is divided into three time periods. The first eight verses are about the past as the psalmist remembers the stories told by his forefathers about the miraculous deliverances from their enemies by the Almighty God. This section ends with the admission that each victory won was because of God, not because of Israel’s military might.
The next section (vv. 9-22) is about the present. This is the psalmist’s lament as he tries to understand why they were defeated and why it seemed God did not care. The third section (vv. 23-26) is about the future as the psalmist is sure that God had not forgotten them. He cries out for God to awaken from sleep—a metaphor for God’s supposed inattention. How much this reminds us of that fearful night when the disciples were tossed about by the boisterous waves on the Sea of Galilee. While they rowed and worried, Jesus was asleep in the boat. The tumult of the sea did not bother Him. He was awakened to the disciples’ pleas for help. A hymnist expressed their words this way: “Carest thou not that we perish? How canst Thou lie asleep, when each moment so madly is threatening a grave in the angry deep?” There was no trouble for Jesus. He awoke and said, “Peace be still.”
The explanation for God’s refusal to help Israel is not given in this psalm. However, we know the character of God. He said He would never leave us or forsake us. If it appears He has, we know it must be for His divine purposes. Sometimes trials come upon us simply because we have been called upon to suffer for Christ. Peter wrote: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12-13). Paul also often mentions the sufferings of Christians, even his own as the divine providence of God. This is often hard for us to understand just as it was for Christians in the early centuries that suffered so much persecution. We notice, however, they always held on. They were firm and steadfast and waited for God’s deliverance. Sometimes the deliverance was death—but death is no problem when the destination is the glories of heaven.
Christians today need to do what the psalmist did. Look back to the past and remember the victories you have won in Christ. Examine yourself in the present to make sure sin is not your problem. Consider the future because you know God will never abandon you. When it seems God is not there, be sure He is. He is closer to you than in your boat—He is in your heart. Peace comes when you are fully dependent upon Him. Another hymnist related the sentiments of God’s heart: “Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed, for I am thy God, and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.”
Pastor V. Mark Smith