This lament psalm has been the subject of much speculation as to when it was written, and under what circumstances. Some of the proposed answers for those questions have been the reign of Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24), the time of the Macabees (inter-testamental), the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18), and even the time of Babylonian captivity (2 Kings 25). It is reasonable however to more narrowly define the circumstances in terms of a group or community of people who are simply persecuted unjustly.
The time and circumstances really do not matter though. It begins in verses 1-8 as a wonderful hymn of praise to God. From there, it becomes much like several other lament psalms that cry for help from God, while it appears to the psalmist that God not only is ignoring their pain, but may well be responsible for some of it; and the psalmist cannot understand what they could have done to deserve such. We may even read in shock at the way the psalmist addresses the Lord, as in verses 23-24: Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! …Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
In that respect, the psalm is of great value to God’s people today in a couple of ways. First, it demonstrates without a doubt that even in keeping with God’s will, godly and righteous people do often suffer undeservedly. The apostle Paul pointed this out very well in Romans 8:36, as he linked the sufferings of persecuted 1st century Christians with that of God’s people in this psalm, quoting verse 22:
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Rembrandt – Apostle Paul – WGA19120 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The second thing that we can take away from this psalm, which is the inspired word of God, is that when we are hurting it is not wrong to cry out to Him – and yes even to express the unfairness of it all and our grieving disappointment that He has not yet taken away our pain. It may be His will that we have that pain eased soon, or He may have more important plans for us and for those we influence. But no, it is not sinful to be hurt, nor to plead for His mercy for us. But keeping our eyes on the promise to which He will surely be faithful, we can know that He loves us even in those times. And we should keep close Paul’s words that follow in Romans 8:37-39:
“in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Read or listen to audio of ESV version of this selection from this link.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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