Here we have the sort of psalm we like. It is upbeat, there is no calling down of vengeance, the picture is one of rescue and there is a sense of relief. When we’ve read this psalm we are not left feeling depressed. However, it is a multi-faceted psalm rooted in the experience of David who wrote it. It is not clear exactly what this psalm relates to and although the title says, ‘for the dedication of the temple’ it doesn’t readily fit because the temple wasn’t built in David’s time. It could be translated, ‘for the dedication of a house’ which means it could be when David returned to the house he had been ejected from by his son Absalom; or it could just be that it has been re-titled and was used at the dedication of the temple by Solomon and re-used in this way at various stages in Israel’s history.
Whatever it’s use, the testimony it gives is a journey with which many can relate. Clearly it begins with rejoicing over deliverance and there other examples of this both in psalms and elsewhere: Miriam and Moses’ song of praise in Exodus 15; Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2; Zechariah’s song in Luke 1. Psalm 32 is one of personal testimony and deliverance and 135 is a national song of deliverance. You could say it follows the pattern I suggested for psalms, beginning with orientation…; moving into disorientation… emerging in reorientation…
This is a song of personal testimony. As such it is something we can enter into and perhaps find ourselves at one particular stage of this testimony. It reminds those of us who have emerged like David from a time of challenge, difficulty or depression, to worship God, to thank him for deliverance and to give testimony to others. David in this psalm gives hope to those who are in that period of dismay or asking if God is going to allow them to descend completely into the pit.
As we emerge from the valley in our journey through the psalms, let’s remember those who are still there, struggling each day and perhaps are finding it a long valley. It is also a salutary reminder to us not to take our circumstances for granted, because they can change. Where is our dependency and trust? Often we don’t find out until we face the difficult times. One of the things this psalm causes us to reflect on, is our view of God in all circumstances. We’ll be thinking about that later.
We’re going to walk through the psalm and listen to David’s testimony. David gives clear reasons for exalting God – that is singing God’s praises before everyone and encouraging them to do so as well. The picture is quite graphic about his position. He was lifted out of the depths: the sense here is being drawn up from the depths of a well. You can picture the dankness and the darkness; the loneliness and the hopelessness – how will he be rescued? This is the picture people suffering from depression will paint: of being in a dark hole with no way of escape. It is very difficult for us to imagine if we have not experienced it. David experienced it and also had the added burden of enemies gloating over him. His circumstances brought about this descent into gloom.
If the rebellion of Absalom is the setting of this psalm, then no wonder David was feeling in the depths. How could his own son do this to him – the son whom he loved? If you read the account in 2 Samuel 15 you will see that David was in a desperate state personally because of what had happened to him. This is underlined by the fact that he felt as though he were nearly in the grave. More accurately it should be Sheol. Often the word for Sheol is translated grave, but that gives the wrong impression. The Hebrews did not have a clear concept of life after death. There are frequent references to Sheol in the Old Testament and we either think of that as the grave or hell. However, Sheol was the world of the dead where all ended up – either good or bad. It was considered to be a shady no man’s land. In Psalm 6 David says:
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?
So David felt as though he was about to enter this land of the dead, disappearing into the pit of Sheol, but God raised him from it. In this context we are to understand that God brought David healing: he restored him to life, because in effect he was a dead man walking, going through the motions.
Verses 4 and 5 are an expression of David’s relief at his deliverance and a recognition that it was God who delivered. There are other implications of these two verses: David is rejoicing as a result of the discipline of God in his life. He has two contrasting pairs of words in these verses: anger/favour and weeping/rejoicing. For me this raises the question of how we view the involvement of God in every aspect of our lives. Is all the good stuff attributable to God and the bad stuff to the devil? It also raises the question of how we understand God. Is our understanding of God – our theology – shaped by our experience, or do we interpret our experience through our understanding of God?
The tension we live with is that everything is in the purview of God. Nothing is outside of God otherwise he is not God over all. We can fall into the trap of saying that everything good is from God and bad from the devil, but that is not biblical nor what David said in the psalms or what we read elsewhere in the Bible. David interpreted his experience through his understanding of God. He didn’t always completely understand and was not above complaining, or asking or mourning before God, but he didn’t resort to ‘O that’s the devil attacking me’.
Let me put that in the context of what happened to me about a year ago. As you will know I had a heart attack. Was it because the devil was attacking me…Was it because I had a poor lifestyle…Was it because I hadn’t been doing enough exercise….had God abandoned me…What it reminded me was that I am mortal like everyone else before me. It caused me to ponder the words of Job ‘The Lord gives and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’ It reminded me that I am in God’s hands for good or ill – but I believe that he is ultimately just and good and that I am safe, because of the sacrifice of Jesus.
David in all his experience of life, did not abandon God in the tough times and worship God only in the good. He brought everything to God. Verses 6 and 7 can reflect the complacency we so easily fall into. Everything is fine with me, all is well, my mountain is secure and God is in his heaven blessing me. Where was David’s security? Where is yours? Is it in your plans for the future, your pension pot, your job? Or is it in the Lord your God who has delivered us from death and judgement in the Lord Jesus Christ? When things suddenly took a turn for the worse with David was dismayed – who wouldn’t be? In his dismay he turned to God and cried out to him, because there was his security.
What this psalm reminds us is that as Christians we don’t have a right to everything going smoothly and for the lines to fall for us in pleasant places, as Psalm 16 says. We thank God when they do and we turn to him in times of trouble and trial. In 1 Peter 1 after giving thanks for the hope we have, he says,
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
The trials those Christians were facing were interpreted not as the devil attacking or God judging, but as a means of faith testing and honouring Jesus Christ.
Returning to the psalm, in his distress David called to the Lord. It was a pretty intense time as he wailed and mourned for his situation. He took off his royal robes, all indications that he was the king, and put on sackcloth and poured ashes on his head. All this was a symbol of mourning. He even accepted the abuse of Shimei as he passed by. In the depths of his distress he turns to God and his prayer is to raise a complaint. What’s the point of all this? How can I worship you and declare your faithfulness from Sheol?
We have the advantage of knowing the assurance Jesus gives; of the hope of eternity because of his resurrection and his promises that we will be with him. That doesn’t mean we won’t feel the pain of our circumstances; we are human. As we pass through those times, we are not left without hope. David experienced the passing of the night. His wailing was turned in to dancing; his sackcloth was replaced with joy as he is delivered. These are funeral images and reflect that fact that David was lifted from the depths of Sheol and restored.
As I said earlier, we may know deliverance, but there will be those who are still walking the valley and for some it is a long path. They need those who will walk with them and stand with them and be the ones who have hope for them, because they are clinging on by their finger tips. However, it is also right that we should praise God for our deliverance and give testimony to what he has done. It is right that we are not silent and give God the honour and praise for the blessings and deliverance we have experienced. Why? It is an encouragement to others; it points to our God and Saviour; it causes others to stop and think about the God we worship who came into the world through Jesus and who still engages with his people and the world he has created.
David uses many verbs to describe the action of God – the personal actions of God in his life. Look at them: lifted, healed, spared, favoured, turned, removed. Can you relate to any of these? What verbs would you use to describe the action of God in your life? Of course for us as Christians the ultimate expression is in the words of John 3
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Ultimately God has loved when he need not have done, but just come in condemnation. That love restores our relationship, brings forgiveness and delivers us for eternity. It is something we have experienced, we go on experiencing and will experience as we put our faith and trust in him.