Psalm 22:1-11: Be Not Far from Me
January 23, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
From the glory and confidence of the previous psalm comes the low of this psalm. David comes back down to earth with a bump. Here he is not feeling as if he could climb every mountain and beat every giant; here he is feeling as if God had completely left him and all was dust and ashes in his mouth. Why?
Perhaps you are asking that very question this morning. You resonate with the Beatles’ song Yesterday. “Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away; now it looks as though they’re here to stay.” Why? That’s the question David is asking.
The first eleven verses of this psalm are structured around, first, that initial and controlling question (why?), and then “yet” (verses 3-5), “but” (verses 6-8), and once more “yet” (verses 9-11). David is showing us the way he was reasoning with himself, and the kind of torture that his mind was going through as he tried to talk himself out of the despair that threatened to engulf him.
First of all, he does ask “why.” It is very important that when we feel as if God is far off, that we ask him why that is the case. Don’t bottle it up. Don’t pretend to God. He knows what you’re feeling anyway. Tell him! It is good therapy, but more than that it is good prayer. The Psalms evidence for us an honesty with God that, I’m afraid, is too often foreign to the prayer manuals of the twenty-first century. They want us to skip past lament to joy. But in the Bible, lament, asking the hard questions, “why,” is a key part of mature, grown-up spirituality. Only a child thinks that the end of every story is inevitably “they lived happily every after.”
While, as Christians, we believe that the final story does end with an ever after joy, we know that many subplots to that story have tragedy as their intermittent end. We need to wrestle with this reality. We need to seek insight from God. And we will not learn answers if we do not ask questions. Ask “why” of God.
But second, he does not stay with “why,” he goes to the “yet” of the trustworthiness of God. If some prayer manuals skip the “why” questioning, others refuse to think that there can be any answers at all. Being on an eternal quest is only fun in theory; in practice the reason why you are on a quest is because you want to arrive. No one sets out on a journey without some hope of at some point finding at least a friendly inn and a warm fire to settle for the night. A constant quest is only fun in novels; in real life, adventure is for the purpose of arrival. And so from verses 3-5, he tells himself, “yet,” all that is still true about God despite all the questions that he has. God has a good track record. David’s forefathers trusted in God and proved that God was reliable. He will, therefore, be reliable to us too.
Perhaps you can use this line of reasoning to dig yourself out of despair this morning. Yes, you have questions, perhaps unanswered questions; but remember, people before you have trusted God and found him reliable. They no doubt also had their questions when they were trusting. But they won a great victory through their faith. Therefore, do not give up when the manger is empty, when the bank account is in the red, when the mortgage cannot be paid, when the friend deserts you, when the child abandons what you taught them. Remember, “yet,” that God is reliable.
Nonetheless, there is another concern that then hits David like a four-by-four across the face. “But,” he says, from verses 6 to 8, people think he is an imbecile for trusting God. There is a difference between rushing in where angels fear to tread, jumping off a cliff expecting God to lift you up, and trusting God while taking action. The general Oliver Cromwell would tell his soldiers to “trust in God and keep your powder dry” (powder being the gunpowder used to fire their weapons). It is good advice. David was not being presumptuous in his trust of God. He was simply trusting God through it all.
And as he did so, people around him thought he was being utterly foolish. “Give up, David! All is lost! The kingdom is a mess!” “You can’t help that child; why are you still trying!” “You can’t help that friend; stop trying to help them!” “You can’t mean that you’re standing by your man after he behaved like that! How foolish! Do you really think God will change him!” “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; he trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him” (22:7-8).
Can you hear the sneer in these words? Simpleton, foolish, idiot. Sometimes the hardest thing about trusting God is the ridicule you receive from others when you do. Again, David records these emotions to encourage us when we feel something similar or experience something similar.
He is not done though. There is a final “yet” in this section, from verses 9 to 11. Despite the fact that he has questions (“why”), which he schools himself to trust God through (“yet”), and despite the fact that he is ridiculed for trusting God still (“but”), he has another reason to still stick with God (“yet” again). This time, it is not the experience of those who gone before him that comforts him. It is his own experience. “You are the one who took me from my womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts” (22:9).
There are those children who seem to always have been walking by faith even before they could walk. Such, apparently, was David. He may have had brothers who overlooked him. But he always trusted God. In the name of the LORD, he defeated the lion and the bear and indeed Goliath. He looks back into his infancy, and even from his mother’s womb, God was his God. He has this personal connection to God right from there.
Perhaps you have had a relationship with God for many years. What you are facing today feels unprecedented. Yet—remember—God has been with you through so much before. Surely he will not let you down now!
Which brings him to his final prayer—pathos, passion, and prayer, all together; it is beautiful and moving. Perhaps you need to say it to God yourself this morning:
Be not far from me, For trouble is near And there is none to help (22:11).
He is asking God to not be far from him, which he feels is the reality. Because while God feels distant, trouble is very close. And, oh the trouble; there is none to help. Whatever it was that David was facing was beyond the help of any others. Or it could not be shared with any others. Some troubles are too explosive to be shared in a Bible study group when you are a king. He felt abandoned, alone. And so he turned—through his reasoning and praying (“why,” “yet,” “but,” “yet”) to God. Would you do the same today?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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