What is our comfort in our affliction? According to the Psalmist, the comfort comes from nothing less than the Law itself.
When night comes, it is easy to remember everything that’s going wrong in our lives. The warmth leaves the air, leaving a bitter chill. We wrap ourselves in our blankets, heat up some water for tea, and we snuggle into a couch. But as the lights fade, and we become cold, our thoughts drift to the problems of the day. We remember that project which threatens to unravel; a past due bill; an ill child. We remember the harsh words that we’ve spoken. We think of upcoming appointments with the doctor. We think of looming headlines.
There’s something so easy about forgetting your woes on a warm and sunny day, isn’t there? Even this is temporary. The pressures of life always threaten to confront us. An 80 degree day can’t remove the cancer in grandma’s lungs, can it?
So where do we turn? For the Psalmist, he turned the only place he knew: the Scriptures (Psalm 119). In his case, he only had Torah, or the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis-Deuteronomy). He describes his problems: “I am a sojourner”; “princes sit plotting against me”; false ways threaten to grip his heart; he is taunted.
I am a slightly dramatic person, to put it lightly. Minor inconveniences set me off far more than real problems. But I do know the saving effect of reading the Bible. If God has given me no other grace other than my love for the Bible, how much that would still be! By his grace, I have been given a hunger for the Scriptures. To put it bluntly: by his grace, I read the Bible in its entirely almost monthly. I have learned what the Psalmist has learned: my comfort in affliction comes from, and only from, his revelation in the Scriptures.
David says: “remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope.” (119:49) Think of the grand promises of God in the Pentateuch: the God who creates is the God who is a lawgiver. The God who comes in fire will cause his face to shine upon us. The God who brought us up from Egypt is the God who will bring us under his wing, loving us eternally. Such hope this creates in the believers hope!
But remember the hope we have as Christians: the revelation of the resurrected Christ! All of God’s promises find their “Yes!” in Christ. This Christ is the creator in whom all things exist, and this is the Christ who walked among us. The Christ who heals the blind crucified the powers that accuse us. There is no accusation against us because Christ has done what the Law could not: he came in the flesh so we can have life! We have this hope because we have read these promises in the Scriptures.
He continues: “When I think of your rules from old, I take comfort, O Yahweh: hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law.” Why is this a comfort? Because God is indignant against lawbreakers, too. Blessings, in terms of sheer numbers, are outweighed by the curses leveled against covenant lawbreakers (Deuteronomy 28; Leviticus 26). When hot indignation has overtaken David, his heart begins to look like Christ’s. This Christlikeness is a source of comfort because in it we know the Spirit is working in us.
Finally, he says: “Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning. I remember your name in the night, Yahweh, and keep your Law.” When we are tempted to complain, or be bitter, or turn our thoughts away from Christ, extended meditation on the Scriptures brings a new song to our mouths. Rather than being bitter, we might sing the Christic hymn of Philippians 2:5-12. We might replace our whining with the beautiful refrain of Colossians 1:15-20. No matter where we go, proper time in the Scriptures keeps our mind focused.
And, at the end of the day, as we wind down toward a restful sleep under the wings of our refuge (Proverbs 3:21-26), the thoughts of the day threaten our rest. But this is not the case for David: he remembers Yahweh in the night because he meditated on God during the day.
So what about us? Will we be the blessed man of Psalm 1 and meditate on God’s revelation in the Scriptures and find comfort in our affliction? Or will we find our refrain from other sources, those which don’t satisfy? Let us pray that the Spirit, the one who reveals Christ, our Helper, for the grace to desire to read the Scriptures. Let us pray that he reveals to us the glorious gospel of the Blessed God. Let us pray that our Scripture reading produces new Christlikeness, the hope of life, and rest in the night. And in these, the God of peace which transcends understanding can give us comfort in our affliction.