GOD'S USE OF SUFFERING Readings: Psalms 60 and 61 Brethren, we have just heard read to us two Psalms from Book 2 of the song book of the Bible. Psalm 60 teaches us that real help comes from Yahweh alone. When a situation seems out of control, we can trust Him to do mighty things. Psalm 61 continues that thought. It is a prayer for security and assurance. Wherever we are, we can trust that God will be there to answer our cries for help. Both Psalms were written by David when he faced trying circumstances; the former, an incident in Sam 8 when Israel was away at war with Syria in the north and Edom invaded Judah from the south; the latter refers to the situation in 2 Samuel, Chapters 15 through18 when David was forced to escape during the days of Absalom’s rebellion. One commentator suggests it referred to when he narrowly escaped one of Saul’s efforts to kill him while hiding in the wilderness. It could speak to both situations. Psalm 61 expresses David’s confidence in God’s promises even though he is isolated from his beloved city. Nothing is taken for granted. Even though David has implicit trust in God, he still pleads earnestly for God’s deliverance. David seemed always to be aware of the reasons behind his suffering. We find that the Psalms are full of his pleading for forgiveness. David realizes that deliverance is beyond his ability to accomplish. Vs 2 of the latter Psalm says, “Lead me to a rock that is too high for me.” Only God could lift him to refuge and safety. We read of David’s personal plight, but implicit within the Spirit’s message are spiritual truths which are good for all ages. Many of these Psalms are clearly Messianic. The Psalms are a wonderful mirror of the Pentatuch, the first five books of the Bible. The Hebrew Bible divides the Psalms into five sections or books that parallel Genesis through Deuteronomy. These books of Moses record the deliverance of the nation of Israel from the oppression they suffered in the land of Egypt under the Pharaohs and also their experiences in the wilderness as they marched toward the Promised Land. Likewise, the five books of the Psalms reveal the way that can lead a person from the wicked land of mortality and death to salvation in the coming kingdom of God that will be established here upon the earth. Here are recorded the origins of mankind that we have just completed in our January readings. They describe how, in the beginning, mankind fell from its privileged position in the Paradise of God and suffered mortality as a result. The first book of Psalms presents the first stage of redemption wherein an individual must be prepared to acknowledge sin and accept the terms of salvation -- the crucifixion of one’s own desires in order to serve Almighty God. The Psalms we are looking at this morning come from Book Two, and we know that these Psalms correspond to the book of Exodus which we also have recently commenced to read as the first portion of our Daily Bible Companion. In Exodus Moses reveals the name of Israel’s God. When Yahweh brought the Israelites from Egypt under the hand of Moses, He redeemed them from the oppression and persecution they were experiencing. It was His desire that they manifest His character. The challenge of Exodus is a choice between two ways of life -- that of God or that of Egypt. The choice is ours today also -- the way of the Spirit or God, as opposed to the way of the flesh as represented by Egypt. Book Two of Psalms, along with Exodus, represents the second step that we take toward salvation as seen in the principle of baptism. As the Israelites were saved from the power of the Egyptians through crossing the Red Sea. so believers are introduced to the way of righteousness through baptism. The successive books of the Pentatuch and of Psalms present further steps in this process -- a reflection of the holiness of God in the life of the believer, a knowledge that God will lead those who are faithful to triumph over difficulties by developing faith and trust, and finally, a clear understanding of what God proposes for the world. We must believe that Christ is coming to reign on earth and seek harmony in truth with the Bible today. In the Davidic Psalm under consideration, we can look beyond the obvious and David’s situation to that of the Greater David, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. David, as a type of Christ, experienced many things that Christ would experience in his first advent. We learn from the Psalms many prophecies of Christ’s first coming and His sinless perfection. They prophesy not only His death on the cross and His resurrection and ascension, but they proclaim His second coming as King of Glory reigning from Jerusalem. We learn that there is a place in the kingdom for all who desire to prepare themselves in a personal conversion to righteousness. To inherit this kingdom, we must answer the call by believing the gospel message. David’s sin brought great consequences upon him and his family. Adam’s sin likewise brought serious consequences upon all of future mankind. When we read these particular Psalms of David, we are reminded that our lives too are beset by many sufferings. It is only human that in our moments of fleshly weakness, we ask why -- why does God permit pain and anguish? David knew the answer; we know the answer, but we still ask why! The Bible teaches that an all-wise, almighty Creator formed this marvelous universe in which we live by His infinite skills of wisdom, foresight and care. Yet humanity experiences continual difficulties, stresses and troubles. Families suffer through disease, disabilities and death. Often through no fault of our own, we face times of trauma as we try to grapple with the question as to why we suffer. We recognize there is a reason for the suffering that is an observable part of human existence. It is a part of the present state of things. It was not caused by the design or purpose of God, but rather by the foolishness of mankind. This was present from the beginning and is perpetuated in many cases by the irresponsible actions of an ignorant and disobedient world. Yet, God, whose righteousness demands punishment, brings great benefit out of suffering, pain and difficulty if we are prepared to understand its cause and effect. David seemed to have a grasp of this great truth. He realized that prayer is effective when it is fervent. Oftentimes such fervor is born out of tribulation. This is the time to remember with confidence what God has promised. At the same time we realize we cannot effect our own salvation. David affirms in verse 3 of Psalm 61 that “thou had been a shelter for me and a strong tower from the enemy.” Proverbs 18:10 tells us that “the name of Yahweh is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it and is safe.” This theme of suffering runs throughout Scripture. Job was a servant of God. Job 1:8 tells us “that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil.” But God saw that there would be benefits gained by Job personally, and by those like him in every age, if the matter were put to the test. We know the narrative of Job‘s suffering both physically and at the hand of his so-called friends, but God meant it for a purpose. Job’s example set a pattern that later generations would learn. Realizing that there is a purpose in suffering and that the “latter end” of life will greatly compensate any present difficulty, faithful men and women are encouraged to continue patiently under the trials of the present. God has promised faithful men and women they will be granted immortality and an inheritance of glory and honor at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to look no further than Jesus Himself who is the supreme example of suffering. David’s suffering in these Psalms of lament are a prophetic utterance of the suffering that Christ would be subjected to at the hands of evil men. Isaiah in chapter 53, verses 3 and 4 prophesied that “he is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief, and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely, he hath born our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” He went about doing good to all, healing sickness and teaching truth to which the gospel writers gave evidence. But men driven by jealousy and bitterness, just like the human adversary called Satan in the story of Job, caused Jesus to suffer an illegal trial based on false charges. He was scourged, beaten, and crowned with thorns. However, out of the sufferings of the Lord great benefits have come to those who would seek God in truth. Through His sufferings Jesus developed an empathy with those He came to save. Thereby He could understand the effect of suffering on His disciples past and present, and identify with their difficulties. In our moments of suffering, we are taught that others have experienced similar and oftentimes even greater trials. Such experiences develop in the human character the important priestly qualities of empathy and compassion by which we are strengthened to triumph over difficulties and can encourage others likewise. Christ as our high priest, in developing this empathy, was able to achieve reconciliation for the sins of the people. We as future co-rulers in the Kingdom Age have an ever greater need to develop such empathy. The fruit of the Spirit that Yahweh seeks to develop in his “called out ones” is not natural to the flesh, but rather needs development. We are born with the selfish desires of the flesh. God wants to change that. Trial and suffering is a means to that end. Paul says in Acts 14:22 that it is through much tribulation that the believer will enter the Kingdom of God. Yahweh does not exempt His servants from suffering and trials, for it is by such means that they are able to prove their courage and conviction for the things they believe. God forgave David his sins of adultery and murder, but the consequences remained. David was truly repentant and proved to be a “man after God’s own heart.” Through difficulties, David was, as are we, made stronger in character, more understanding and compassionate, and ever more faithful in disposition. Back to Psalm 61.....“I will abide in thy tabernacle forever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings.” What a godly attitude David expresses in verse 4! He was definitely thinking of greater things than just a temporary deliverance from Saul, Absalom or his military adversaries. His plea is for all of us who yearn to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Verse 5 speaks of keeping our vows. Israel was led out of Egypt through the waters of baptism and into a covenant at Sinai. We have entered the water of baptism and now must keep our vows if we wish to partake of the “heritage or possession of those that fear thy name.” David expressed confidence in the promises made to him in 2 Sam. In verse 6 it becomes obvious that this Psalm is Messianic since it is Christ the King whose life will be prolonged forever through resurrection. It is that life that we memorialize here this morning in these emblems of bread and wine. His was a life of suffering and complete surrender to the will of His heavenly Father. Through His suffering He learned obedience. David learned obedience through suffering. We too have our character molded by our response to trial and tribulation. And what a hope we have when we have the advantage of being “in Christ”! Many people bring unnecessary suffering upon themselves and others through foolish behavior. Devastating floods, famines, economic hardship, disease, bloodshed, war, the Enron and other corporate fiascos, and widespread clergy abuse -- these terrible events that yield immeasurable ruin and/or death are often the product of man’s greed and lust for power, which we know all stem from the lust of the flesh, the lust or the eyes and the pride of life. God does not cause this suffering, but He uses it in His divine plan of redemption. He allows us to undergo such discipline that we might eventually be trained for His greater purpose yet to be accomplished. We pray for the soon return of our Lord and Savior when the breach between man and his Maker will be healed. We know that Christ’s second advent is imminent, but no man knoweth the hour. Brother Thomas addresses himself to God’s timing in Chapter 11 of Eureka. “It (meaning the world) had not then (referring to the time of Abraham) been sufficiently subdued, improved and replenished. There was too much unhewn forest, too many wild races of untamed humanity; too few of the conveniences and elegances of life and the existing civilization itself was too barbarous to constitute a gift worthy of Diety to His saints. He therefore deferred the fulfillment of His promises until He had developed a world of kingdoms and nations of a higher order of civilization -- such, in short, as now occupies the globe. This is the better thing provided, the preparation of which has hitherto delayed the perfection of Abraham. When the time of the dead arrives, he, and all the prophets and postpentacostian believers, (that is, those believers after the events of Pentacost), will stand upon their feet again, and be made perfect, and, when perfected in putting on incorruptibility will receive the Holy Land and Modern World of kingdoms and nations for their reward.” Through these emblems of bread and wine we are again reminded of the Promise of the Greater Than David who will sit upon the throne. Bro. Thomas reminds us that “the coming of the Ancient of Days will be to the Brethren of Jesus Christ their speedy deliverance from ‘all the ills that flesh is heir to.’ In relation to them, Mortality and Death will be swallowed up of life and victory, and the curses, which now cleave to flesh and blood with leprous inveteracy, shall afflict them no more. They shall be ‘like Jesus’ and ‘equal to the angels.’ This is a consummation, not only to be devoutly wished and prayed for, but to be earnestly sought for, and labored for, ‘by a patient continuance in well-doing’ -- which is the only effectual seeking that will be wreathed with that which fadeth not away.” Brother Thomas’ nineteenth century Victorian English is perhaps a bit difficult for us today, but upon reflection, it is a poetic way of describing what is to take place upon the return of Christ. Ultimately, the curse of death, that flesh and blood are heir to, will be replaced by eternal life. “Walking in the Spirit” might bring opposition and ridicule from others. The suffering experienced in the past, present or in the future may arise from our work for Christ. It may be health-related, family-centered or a product of interpersonal relationships. Suffering can take many forms. But again, as read earlier, Paul taught in Acts 14:22 -- it is through much tribulation that believers will “enter the kingdom of God.” The world is being made ready; we are being made ready. Will we heed the call and thereby be ready? From the Psalms, then, we learn that God is about to establish His throne and kingdom on the earth where all mankind will accept His terms and conditions of life. A glorious temple will be built in Jerusalem from whence the laws of truth and righteousness will be extended to all parts of the earth. “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea,” Habakkuk prophesies. To those who “by patient continuance in well doing seek for the glory and honor and immortality” they will be granted eternal life. “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” This is the promise given in Rev 21. The body and blood of Christ symbolized by these emblems that we share in fellowship today are the seal of that Promise.
Jack VOGELGESANG North Industry, Ohio
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