The Mixing of Lament and Laud (Psalm 40)

11 As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain 
      your mercy from me; 
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will 
      ever preserve me! 
12 For evils have encompassed me 
      beyond number; 
my iniquities have overtaken me, 
      and I cannot see; 
they are more than the hairs of my head; 
      my heart fails me.

—Psalm 40:11–12

The 40th psalm opens in praise and morphs into petition. Or, we might say we have a petition prefaced by praise, but not in a forced, unnatural, manipulative way. The petition doesn’t betray a hypocrisy in the praise, rather, the sincere praise speaks to righteousness of the plea. Laud is a good warm up for lament. Just as it was a lament heard that let birthed laud (v. 1), so laud now lays the way for lament—the kind of lament that is heard. Petition has led to praise and now praise prefaces petition.

From praise for past deliverances David will turn to petition for his present distress. The experience of previous deliverance prepped David to plea with praise on his lips. Deliverance in this life isn’t prep for a life of ease. It is prep to meet the next trial with grace. The result: praise doesn’t simply follow petition answered, it is mingled with petition given.

In Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy we find said boy, Shasta, exhausted from completing one good and hard work quickly be given another. At this, we’re told Shasta’s heart grew faint and he was in turmoil at the cruelty of such a demand. The narrator explains, “He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.” Here, David, no longer a boy, receives such a trial with greater dignity. Where did David learn such grace? Through the grace of trials. The cycle of petition and praise led to their blurring of lines and the mingling of one with the other. This is a cycle that will persist in this life as we say, “Praise be! Jesus has come!” and “Come Lord Jesus!” This cycle will persist until that ultimate lament gives birth to eternal laud.

Speaking for Silence (Psalm 39)

1 I said, “I will guard my ways, 
     that I may not sin with my tongue; 
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, 
     so long as the wicked are in my presence.” 
2 I was mute and silent
     I held my peace to no avail, 
     and my distress grew worse. 
3    My heart became hot within me. 
As I mused, the fire burned; 
     then I spoke with my tongue:

—Psalm 39:1–3

In the 39th Psalm we see David both silent and speaking under the Lord’s discipline. That is clear. The question is, when is he sinning? The easy answer is to say that David was saintly when he was silence and sinful when he was speaking. But remember that David’s son would later say, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28). Mere silence can be mistaken for sanctification, but it is not always so. A silent mouth doesn’t always indicate a quiet soul. It was while David was silent that his heart burned and it was while he spoke that he came to a place of renewed silence (vv. 7–9).

When was David sinful? I think it was both while he was silent and while he was speaking. When was David saintly? I believe it was both while he was silent and while he was speaking. Before you write off David’s words following verse 3 as complaint consider two things:

First, David doesn’t blaspheme God in the presence of the wicked. He lifts up this cry in the presence of God. David isn’t silent, but he is still guarding his lips and thus at least partially keeping his vow.

Second, these words that David spoke were given to Jeduthun, a chief leader in Israel’s worship (2 Chronicles 25:1). This psalm isn’t a historical record. It is a song. It is not just poetic expression. It is a song given by Israel’s king to a priest who is a choirmaster of Israel.

So what are we to make of these words? I believe it is clear that as David speaks, he still guards his words. What you have here is a lament for when your soul wants to complain. Here is a lament that walks right up to the edge of complaint and then stops. The complaint is understood, but it is a lament that is spoken. The complaint is suppressed. The lament is expressed.

Oh what a grace is here for us saints. When our hearts burn and sin is present within, here is grace. Grace for us to have something to sing and to pray that will guard our hearts from further sin. Here is a lament for our lips to guard us from complaint when it is in our heart. Here is a prayer to keep you from grumbling. Here is cry to keep you from blaspheming.

The Don: Where Is God?

“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will be come. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

…Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’

…Of course it’s easy enough to say that God seems absent at our greatest need because He is absent—non-existent. But then why does He seem so present when, to put it quite frankly, we don’t ask for Him?” —C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (HarperOne, 2001) pp. 5, 6.

When Confidence Cries (Psalm 27)

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple.

Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, ‘Seek my face.’
My heart says to you,
‘Your face, LORD, do I seek.’

—Pslam 27:1, 4, 7

We often see psalms of lament give way to a resolution of confidence. Lament is fertilizer for faith to come into vibrant bloom. But here, in the 27th Psalm, we see confidence give way to lament. Does this psalm then progress or regress?

As confidence can be an expression of cockiness and not faith, so lament can be an expression of faith and not doubt. Lament should lead to confidence, but confidence may also lead to lament.

David’s confidence is that Yahweh, the eternal, self-existing, immutable, sovereign covenant Lord of His people, is his light and his salvation and his stronghold. The stronghold David is sure of is also the one thing David desires. The stronghold is the dwelling place of God. The greatest joy of taking refuge in God is the God in whom we take refuge. It is not the castle walls, but the throne that we love most. The greatest blessing of this fortress is not what you are protected from, but what you are protected unto. Being protected from enemies is a blessing, but being protected unto God is blessedness.

David’s joy is then expressed as a longing. Faith that is confident that God is our salvation will lament for that salvation in the full that we may see the glory of God cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Therefore, lament not only leads to confidence, but confidence may be expressed as lament. Lament expresses our longings; longings we are confident are ours in Christ. If you’re still not convinced, read Romans 7 and 8 and see how longing and confidence are as intertwined in Paul’s heart as they are in David’s.

Whining or Lamenting (Psalm 12)

“Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone;
for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.” —Psalm 12:1 (ESV)

Like a drowning man, David urgently pleads “Save!” The petition comes abruptly, almost rudely. There is no address. There is no explanation. Just an urgent plea. What could distress David so? There are two answers in our text: the vanishing of the godly and the words of the wicked. I want to focus on the first.

The godly have vanished. David hasn’t been Left Behind. There are not a lot of nicely folded clothes lying around after a mini-rapture rehearsal. Having done away with any dispensational theories, we might conclude David is being a bit dramatic; overreacting. This is nothing but hyperbole. We recall Elijah whining in the wilderness, “I’m the only one left.”

We’re prone to discount hyperbolic statements. Overstatements are overused. Was that cheese burger really awesome? Delicious maybe, but isn’t awesome too strong a word? If the burger is awesome, how are we going to describe the Aurora Borealis? Likewise, the media exaggerates everything—even the weather. However, hyperbole in the Scripture communicates truth. What is exaggerated in one sense is understated in another. Concerning lust, Jesus says that if our eye offends us, we are to tear it out. This isn’t meant to be taken literally. The left can lust just as well as the right. Still, sin is to be attacked with this kind of violence. Sin isn’t less than Jesus makes it out to be; it is this serious.

David wasn’t alone in this thought. Micah later exclaimed, “The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net” (Micah 7:2). A couple of songs over David sings, “there is none who does good, not even one.” He would return to this meditation in Psalm 53. David isn’t having a temporary crisis of faith like Elijah; this is a sustained and repeated meditation. Paul will use David’s words as the capstone of his argument for the total depravity of man. Have you never beheld the total depravity of the totality of humanity?

Unlike Elijah’s lapse, David receives no rebuke when God answers him here. What gives? What makes the difference? No doubt, Elijah had David’s virtue, and David Elijah’s vice at times in their pilgrimage, but what is being brought to the fore in these instances that makes the difference? Elijah is selfishly whining, whereas David laments the situation itself. Elijah fails to see, where as David is seeing, though the same reality is in view.

The media often exaggerates, but though the news is filled with horrid events, they’re  far from communicating just how wicked and vile humanity is. If the news merely makes you sad, concerned for the future, or fearful for your grandchildren, then you’re probably in league with Elijah. You’re seeing the bad, but you’re not yet seeing just how bad things are. You’ve got the horizontal dimension of evil in view, but don’t perceive the vertical height or depth of it. But if you lament the wickedness of this world before God, if you sense something of the moxie of man’s arrogance against the heavens, then you can sing this song. A song, that once God speaks (v. 5), turns to praise and confidence (vv. 6–7).