The Prayer of an Old Man – Psalm 119:81-88

While looking through one of my notebooks of sermon seed thoughts, I ran into the words “Seeing Clearly.” I immediately thought, “Ah ha,” here is something to which I can relate. I know what it is to see poorly, nearly not to see at all, and now to see clearly in some ways but not in others. Today, with my cataracts removed, the world is brighter, and colors are more brilliant than they were a two months ago.

On that nearly empty page in my notebook, I started jotting down things which appear to me to weaken eyesight – both physically and spiritually. And then I thought about the verse which I had written just under those two words “Seeing Clearly.” Psalm 119:82 says – “Mine eyes fail for thy word, When wilt thou comfort me?” With that, more thoughts started popping into my head. And then I decided it would be good to look at the context. When I did that it seemed to me that all these verses link together into a somewhat wider message.

It’s my prayer that these meditations might be a blessing to all of us.

Let’s start where I first started – verse 82.

“Mine eyes fail for thy word, When wilt thou comfort me?” Temporarily forgetting one of the cardinal rules about Bible study, I started thinking about the verse very narrowly. Other than a few Proverbs, no verse of scripture comes without a context. But I’m as guilty as anyone, starting and staring at verse 82 as if it was of a private interpretation. Like most scriptures it says one thing when standing alone, but it means much more when understood in the midst of the surrounding verses.

Initially,“When wilt thou comfort me?” told me that the Psalmist was hurting, like so many other people. Christians, despite their faith – and sometimes even as a result of their faith in God – can suffer from aching hearts. David, or Asaph, or whoever was writing this poem, was yearning for God’s intervention in his life. Are you like that this afternoon? Many times, it is only the Holy Spirit who can calm our hearts, despite the good efforts of our loved ones and fellow Christians. “When wilt THOU comfort me?” We know from experience that Jehovah can not only intervene but that He often does. “So why not now Lord? Help me!”

The Hebrew root behind the verb “comfort me” is actually nothing more than a “sigh” – a breath of exhaustion or exasperation – sometimes audible, but often inward and silent. Maybe the writer was being unjustly persecuted by wicked men. Maybe he was just looking at the stupid things that were being done in society, in the media, or in his nation’s capitol. After another body-blow – punch to the gut – slap in the face or jab to the soul, all he could do was groan out a sigh – “When wilt thou comfort me?” Perhaps he was so disappointed with earthly life, and his heart was so filled with heaven, that he was straining his eyes toward the horizon, looking for the Messiah. Maybe he was sick with a terrible virus. Or it might have been that his body was just getting old and weak, and he needed the Lord’s blessing just to get out of bed in the morning. Those words, “when wilt thou comfort me?” suggest to me that the Psalmist’s definition of “word” was something like “promise.” “Mine eyes fail for the fulfilment of thy PROMISE, When wilt thou comfort me?”

Why do eyes fail? Let me count the ways. I’m not an ophthalmologist, so these are only uneducated guesses. But for me personally, my eyes began to fail at an early age. It was not through disease or accident, so maybe it was in my DNA – my genetics. Everyone in my father’s family has had weak eyes, including my parents and sister. My sister has a severe astigmatism, and she was diagnosed early on with a “lazy eye.” Now she is looking into cataract surgery, but it is apparently more complicated than mine, because of her additional problems.

Then some time ago, my daughter sent me an message, telling me that I need to give my eyes a break from staring at the computer. She had a co-worker who had serious problems because her eyes were focused for hours every day on that bright little screen. Instead of constantly reading the Word of God as it appears on the screen in one of my computer programs, I need to glance down and read it from the Bible which I take to church. Eyes can suffer when strained by bright lights or by just the opposite – too soft a light. Her suggestions has been reinforced by my biographical reading – I’ve learned about pastors who permanently damaged their eyes through studying their Bibles by candle light.

And our spiritual sight can be damaged by studying sin too closely – pornography for example. Some people are blind to God’s blessings because they are too focused sins – on the sins of politicians, Antifa and other rioters. Eyes may fail when they are too narrowly focused and not permitted to look at the entirety of God’s blessings and creation. But even while admiring God’s beautiful creation, if we aren’t exercising our eyes by looking at things above and upon our Saviour, the author and finisher of our faith, we’ll soon find that we can’t focus on Heaven. God’s creation is not a substitute for Heaven.

Jackie gave me a pair of glasses which are designed to reduce glare from headlights while driving at night. After each of my surgeries, I was given special sun glasses to protect my eyes while going home. And for the last 60 years I have been wearing corrective lenses. Such things might be necessary for us to see well in this world. And they remind us that Christians will not see the things of the Lord well, without the lens of faith. Romans 1 tells us that to look at God’s blessings and His creation without faith will bring us to blindness. And the Psalmist admits, here, that he needed a spiritual ophthalmologist – “Mine eyes fail for thy word, When wilt thou comfort me.”

As my study of this verse continued, I was a bit surprised to read several commentators who said things like – “Perhaps we should think of ‘thy WORD’ as referring to Christ – who is elsewhere called the ‘Word of God.’ In my temporary, self-imposed ignorance I thought, “That’s a pretty big leap. Sure, Christ is the Word. But I don’t think even under Holy Spirit inspiration the Psalmist had that thought in mind.” It was at that point when I started to examine the context.

Verse 81 – “My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.”

Notice that we have “salvation” and the “word” tied together, just as it is in the New Testament. Isn’t our salvation predicated on death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is called the “Word of God?” We don’t know enough about the background of this great Psalm to be able to say definitively what kind of salvation the poet was intending. It could have been deliverance from an enemy like Saul or Absalom. Or it could have been salvation in the way that you and I usually use the term. Psalm 84:2 – “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” Was the psalmist was saying that yearned to be with the Lord? I know that a couple of our ladies have been meditating on Psalm 42 recently. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” Don’t verses like these, at the very least, suggest salvation in the sense we usually use the term?

Whichever way the writer meant the word, with “salvation” in mind I can now understand the thoughts of those commentators like Gill and Jamieson, Fawsett and Brown. And this is where this afternoon’s title began to take shape in my mind. I am calling this message – “The Prayer of an Old Man.” It’s not “The prayer of THE Old Man” but “AN Old man.”

Some of you have yet to reach this point, but there comes a day in many Christian lives, when we find ourselves thinking more and more about leaving this life and joining our Saviour in Heaven. It’s not necessarily because we are sick, or we’ve had a near fatal accident, although these can trigger these kinds of thoughts. It’s not because Covid-19 is creeping closer and closer, or it’s tentacles have wrapped around our lungs. It often just comes with time – and, I suppose, with spiritual maturity. And then we lose a loved one, or we hear of more and more people our age who are dying, we too think about Heaven. And then what we deduce from the news that the return of the Lord is probably not be very far away.

Paul got to that point, and one day he told the Philippians – “I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better; Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” David had far more scars on his soul than any of us, and if he is the writer of this Psalm then I can see why he might say,“My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.” And Elijah – laying aside his lack of faith – can’t we say that toward the end of his life he yearned for God’s salvation? We are all exhorted – “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning” because “your redemption draweth nigh.” This Psalmist may have crested the hill, and for him it was now time either go down or fly up. The fact of the matter is – no matter what our age or our health, we are all exhorted to “set our affections on things above and not on the earth.” “For what is your life? It is even as a vapour which appeareth for a little time and vanisheth away.” So run the rest of your race, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith.”

Verse 83 – “For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes.”

This reference requires a bit of Biblical education and instruction. This is not the kind of bottle with which we are familiar. When I worked in Southern Wyoming along the route of the Oregon trail, some weekends we went looking for century-old artifacts. We found arrow heads, parts of wagons, and various sorts of “detritus” – a fancy technical word for ancient or historical garbage. I never found any personally, but I’ve seen old glass bottles, sometimes a century old – which have turned blue with age and from the effects of the sun. They are definitely worth collecting.

The Psalmist is not referring to bottles made of glass – old, stained, cracked and useless, except as decorations. His kind of bottle was made of the properly-prepared skin of an animal – like a goat or sheep. That skin which was waterproof to the animal, could be reversed and made to keep liquids in. When those bottles were new, they were soft and supple. Into them were poured a gallon or two of water or wine. (I guess you got used to the special flavor.) And it was necessary that these bottles be able to expand as the liquids inside warmed, cooled and sometimes fermented. But, over time, sun, time and conditions like smoke, made those bottles hard, brittle and useless. They had a limited shelf-life or saddle life. The Lord Jesus was referring to this when He said, “No man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.”

Is the Psalmist referring to himself as an old worn out bottle? Is he pointing to the effects of age? “For I am become like a bottle in the smoke.” If he is, he also points to his Christian strength – “Yet do I not forget thy statutes.” He might have been saying, “My mind, like my body, may not be as sharp as it once was, and I’ve forgotten many things, but I haven’t forgotten where to find your blessings, Lord.” “I know that in obedience to thy statutes I can find your promises.” Elsewhere in this Psalm he says, “I love thy testimonies.” He says, “I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold.” And, “Consider how I love thy precepts: quicken me, O LORD, according to thy lovingkindness.” He might also have said, “I will not forsake my assembling together with other believers, as the manner of some is; and so much the more, as I see the day approaching.” “My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.”

Doesn’t verse 84 also refer back to the subject of age and the brevity of life?

“How many are the days of thy servant?” Only the Lord knows the day and hour of our appointment to meet Him. Mr. Psalmist, you may have another twenty years – but still – you are not wrong in asking the question. Because, obviously, you are one day nearer to that appointment than you were yesterday. In the question and thinking of the answer, we may be kept on the best path for tomorrow and the next day.

Job said with some bitterness in the midst of his trials, “Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? are not his days also like the days of an hireling? As a servant earnestly desireth the shadow, and as an hireling looketh for the reward of his work: So am I made to possess months of vanity, and wearisome nights are appointed to me.” “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and are spent without hope. O remember that my life is wind: mine eye shall no more see good. Therefore I will not refrain my mouth…”

David may have started out with a bit of bitterness too, but his faith may have been stronger than Job’s – “LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah. Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them. And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee” – Psalm 39.

It was Moses who in Psalm 90 said, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” “My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.”

I am not going to keep you long this afternoon, because, for one reason, I want up-lift you, not depress you. So we are going to skip over most of this stanza, finishing with the last verse.

Psalm 119:88 – “Quicken me after thy lovingkindness, so will I keep the testimony of thy mouth.”

The word “quicken” is basically the same in both Hebrew and Greek – in both Testaments. I Peter 3:18 – “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” And Ephesians 2 – “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;).” To “quicken” is to “make alive,” or in the case of salvation from sin – to bring to give spiritual life to someone who was spiritually dead.

Our writer, as he does throughout this Psalm, returns to his love of God’s Word and his desire to share it. Yes, the problems his 2020 had beaten him down, and the first week of 2021 hasn’t been the greatest. A friend of mine posted, “2020 is over, and I’ve tried the 7 day free trial of 2021. I don’t think I want it.” The psalmist may have suffered the loss of several friends – not just in death, which is perhaps understandable, but maybe this was the year of Ahithophel’s departure and betrayal. Like Job, his body may have been covered with a virus from his crown – the crown of his head to his toes. The economy may have collapsed, and his personal income may have taken a substantial hit. But he knew what to do about it.

He turned to the Almighty God with a prayer and a promise. “Revive me, Lord. Enliven and quicken me.” There is no permanent blessing – no other source of power and guaranteed promise but in the eternal, gracious God. He didn’t turn to entertainment or heresy or philosophy – spiritual energy drinks. He wasn’t looking for more stability in a government managed by unstable human beings. He went straight to the Lord, “Quicken me after thy lovingkindness.” “Lord I am turning to you and your love.”

Then notice how the second half of the verse begins. “Quicken me after thy loving kindness, SO will I keep the testimony of thy mouth.” He doesn’t make a deal with God – a covenant. It wasn’t – “IF you bless then I will keep your testimony.” This wise Psalmist seems to say, “I EXPECT you to quicken me. And in that strength, I will keep your testimony. I will not only OBEY your word, but I will SHARE your word. I will testify of your testimony.”

Conclusion:

No matter what our physical age, we live in fragile bodies, and we have a relatively short time in which to glorify the Lord in this world. But it is Jehovah who governs these few days which we have in this world. He manages them according to His will – and this is fine with the man of God. An acquaintance of Darren and Jackie Palmer fell off a roof and broke his back. He nearly died – he could have died – and despite still being alive, he will never be the same again. But then on the other hand, Austin fell off a roof and broke his foot or ankle. In a few months, he should be back to normal. God is even in control of what we call “accidents.” Some people have a blood clot in their leg and die instantly of a pulmonary embolism, but others hardly lose a step as they continue to march through their lives. Some people’s eyes fail, while others just need a little corrective procedure. Some are permitted to contract COVID-19 and after a rough patch, they go back to their service of God.

The Lord is the true governor of all which takes place in the world. The gracious, omnipotent God is our surgeon, our physical therapist, and the one to catch us when we fall. How that should impel us walk more closely to Him. How that should make us want to run with patience the narrow path and course which He has set before us.

For what purpose does the Lord try us? And why has He been gracious toward us? It’s not about us directly. It is for His glory. The Psalmist got it – “Quicken me after thy loving kindness, SO will I keep the testimony of thy mouth.”

What about us?